COMMENTARY BT LIU l -MING
Translated by Thomas Clean
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Tht Libr.iry of CoHgrtij aiuloyut. 1
thr pntioMi tJilinn of tbit book at fallout:
Liu, l-ming, 1 8th cent.
The inner teachings of Taoism.
Translation of: Chin tan ssu pat tau chich.
1. Chang, Po-tuan, loth/i ith cent Chin tan ssu pai rzu
2. Taoism. 3. Alchemy — China — Early works to «8oo
I. Chang. Po-tuan, ioth/t ith cent
II. Cleary, Thomas F., 1949-
HLi900.c3563i.381 3 1986 299'. 514 86-11841
ishn 0-87773-363-5 (pbk.)
isbn 1 -57062-7 to-x (pbk.)
The Inner Teachings 3
TWENTY-FOUR ESSENTIALS FOR STUDENTS 36
TWENTY-FOUR SECRETS OF ALCHEMY 40
Solving Symbolic Language 5 1
ON SYMBOLIC LANGUAGE 5 1
ON GOING ALONG AND REVERSAL 54
ON THE MEDICINES 56
ON THE FIRING PROCESS 58
Related Texts 107
FIFTY VERSES TO RESOLVE DOUBTS 107
ON THE TRUE OPENING OF THE MYSTERIOUS FEMALE 1 16
ESSENTIAL TEACHINGS FOR CULTIVATING REALITY 117
The Inner Teachings
Commentary by Liu I-ming
Translated by Thomas Cleary
Taoism is an ancient body of knowledge that has manifested itself
in a multitude of diverse phenomena throughout Chinese history. So
pervasive has the influence of Taoism been that it is difficult to
name a single facet of Chinese civilisation that has not been
touched by it in some way. Politics, religion, science, medicine,
psychology, art, music, literature, drama, dance, design, even
warfare - in all these realms of endeavour are to be found
phenomena bearing the characteristic stamp of Taoism.
There is an enormous body of specialist Taoist literature extant,
containing a wide variety of technical lore. Much of this lore is
couched in a number of esoteric languages, using such diverse
formats as cosmology, mythology, religion, history, fiction,
humour, magic, and alchemy. Needless to say, the problems of
decoding this literature are formidable, for not only are there
numerous codes, but even a single code may also be subject to a
number of different interpretations.
The methods that have been employed in Taoist practise over the
ages are also many and varied. Included in this vast range of
techniques are physical, psychosomatic, and mental exercises,
including special modes of modes of movement, breathing, sexual
intercourse, gazing, imagination and visualisation, and dreaming.
There are also many concentration exercises using such aids as
special patterns of walking, thinking, and writing. Other exercises
involve human service and the cultivation of certain types of social
The earliest known Taoist text seems to be the I Ching 4 well
known as one of the fundamental Chinese classics, esteemed by
both Confucians and Taoists. Composed in a time when divination
was considered an integral part of the process of government, the
core I Ching writings have the outward form of oracles. Taoists
consider the I Ching one of the most detailed guides to human
development, and the esoteric language of Taoist spiritual alchemy,
a major teaching format, is largely based on the symbolism of the I
After the I Ching, the most famous and popular of Taoist classics
is undoubtedly the Tao te ching. This text was compiled and
recorded in a time of the decay of an ancient social order, a time
when all writing considered serious dealt with socio-political issues.
Not surprisingly, therefore, much of the Tao te ching is presented in
terms of advice to rulers. Taoists consider this a fundamental text,
drawing from it models of basic meditation techniques and mental
postures. A large body of commentary and derivative literature is
based on the Tao te ching, including other writings and lore
associated with Lao-tzu, the reputed transmitter of this early classic.
Another extremely popular Taoist classic, the Chuang-tzu, was
also written in this time of political deterioration, which was
characterised by growing militarism and the predominance of sheer
force over social contract. The Chuang-tzu has an air of humorous
abandon, anarchy, satire, and unleashed imagination, envisioning an
entirely new consciousness beyond the scope of then-current
conceptions. Perhaps the first work of fantasy in Chinese literature
that did not profess to be dynastic history, the classic Chuang-tzu, a
dramatic release of the spirit, is widely considered one of the
greatest literary masterpieces of all time.
Another classic apparently composed or compiled around this
same time was the Sun-tzu, a famous treatise on military strategy.
Although it is not usually referred to as a Taoist text per se, the Sun-
tzu is nevertheless widely recognised as largely Taoist-inspired.
While basically pacifistic, Taoism is not sentimental and has always
recognised the reality of war. Rather than simply make moralistic
pronouncements against war, Taoism approaches this problem
realistically, using two basic strategies. The first of these is
preventive, minimising the causes of war existing in the human
psyche; the second is palliative, minimising the trauma or war when
it actually does take place. The Sun-tzu shows what is not referred
to as guerrilla warfare as a Taoist type of strategy based on this idea
of minimisation of the actual violence and overall stress of warfare.
With the founding of the Han dynasty in the late third century
B.C.E., the centuries of strife from which emerged such great Taoist
classics as the Tao te ching, Chuang-tzu, and Sun-tzu came to an
end. Taoistic laissez-faire government, characteristic of several Han
dynasty reigns, allowed the economy to recover from generations of
warfare and oppression; a great deal of interest was taken in natural
science, with marked developments in agriculture and technology.
There was also extensive intercourse between Taoism and
Confucianism, resulting in the incorporation of certain Taoistic
elements into the Confucian outlook.
One of the major Taoist texts dating from the Han period is the
Huai-nan-tzu, composed by a group a Taoists at one of the minor
courts. The Huai-nan-tzu recasts a great deal of ancient lore in a
form suitable for its time, presenting the natural, human, and
supernatural realms as a continuum in which the affairs of each
realm reflect and are reflected by those of the others.
This vision of interreflection enabled Taoists to integrate secular
and transcendental concerns harmoniously, and the Huai-nan-tzu
includes discussions of political and military strategy as well as
higher human evolution. The correspondence of the microcosm and
the macrocosm, a characteristic theme, is also employed in a subtle
way in the Huai-nan-tzu , inner psychic processes being represented
metaphorically by such outer natural processes as the progress of
the seasons. This device in particular became very popular later in
the literature of Taoist spiritual alchemy.
Another product of the Han dynasty, destined to become one of
the most important Taoist texts, is the cryptic Ts’an t’ung ch’I, or
Triplex Unity, by the adept Wei Po-yang. This manual of spiritual
alchemy became a major sourcebook for practitioners of the
Complete Reality School of Taoism, which arose approximately
one thousand years after the composition of the Triplex Unity. This
difficult but intriguing book is still referred to in modem Taoist
literature as the ancestor of alchemical treaties and is held in highest
Toward the end of the Han dynasty, growing political corruption
and repression fostered spreading alienation among the
intelligentsia as well as the peasantry. One characteristic
manifestation of Taoism that arose from these conditions was the
formation of intellectual circles of “pure conversation” involved in
the study of human character and the creation of a new liberation
literature. On the other end of the social spectrum was popular
Taoist freemasonry, which produced vigorous movement in society
by grassroots organisation and violent uprising.
After the fall of the Han dynasty, China was politically
fragmented, with much of the north and west eventually being taken
under the rule of alien dynasties. The breakdown of the political and
intellectual monolith of the Han provided leeway for the entry of
new elements into Chinese culture from southern and central Asia.
One of the most powerful forces to enter China at this time was
Buddhism, which figured prominently in the eventual rebirth of
Chinese civilisation after the turmoil of the post-Han generations.
Over the centuries following the dissolution of the Han dynasty,
Buddhist texts were translated into the Chinese language at a
prodigious rate, and Buddhist monastic orders were established on
Chinese soil. At the same time, a parallel development took place in
Taoism; large numbers of Taoist scriptures resembling those of the
Buddhists were composed, and cloisters of Taoist monks and nuns
were eventually set up on the Buddhist model.
These Taoist scriptures were even classified after the manner of
the Buddhist canon, and are often considered mere imitations of
Buddhist scriptures, much like the Buddhicised Bon and Shinto
writings of Tibet and Japan. The Taoist scriptures contain, however,
certain elements whose parallels in Buddhism are to be found only
in the esoteric forms of Tantric Buddhism, which never seem to
have become very popular in China, in contrast to Tibet and Japan.
In addition to the great post-Han outflow of Taoist literature in
religious garb, during this period there appeared two very famous
classics employing older formats - the Pao-p’u-tzu and the Lieh-
tzu. Both of these books go to great lengths to establish the idea that
conventional knowledge is not ultimate, thus to expand the horizons
of the human outlook; they approach the issue, however, from quite
The Pao-p’u-tzu places much emphasis on immortality and
stresses the impossibility of assessing the question of the existence
of immortals by ordinary standards based on common experience.
The text contains a collection of alchemical recipes for elixirs that
are supposed to transform human beings into immortals and
transform base metals into gold.
It is by no means clear whether these recipes, obtained by the
author of the Pao-p’u-tzu through extensive travel and research,
were originally intended to be understood literally or
metaphorically. There is ample evidence, however, that the
supposed alchemical enterprise did involve considerable work and
experimentation in chemistry and metallurgy as well as
psychological development. The coexistence of material and
spiritual alchemy was also paralleled in the West, and many
outstanding personalities, such as Albertus Magnus, Ramon Lull,
and Paracelsus, are associated with alchemy in Europe.
The author of the Pao-p ’u-tzu was also a distinguished Confucian
scholar who wrote many essays on social and political subjects.
These writings are collected in the so-called outer chapters of the
Pao-p’u-tzu , forming a large proportion of the book. The same
scholar also collected and transmitted legends of immortals, who
were believed to intervene in human affairs from time to time and
whose existence has been the subject of lively interest in China
since remote antiquity.
The contents of the Lieh-tzu, in contrast, range from cosmology
and metaphysics to satire. Among the ideas emphasised in this text
are the interrelation of all phenomena and the limited nature of
mental constructs used by the intellect to describe reality. A number
of stories in the Lieh-tzu are drawn from the earlier Chuang-tzu,
which it greatly resembles in certain ways. Some of these tales
passed into popular lore and appear even in modern political and
By the end of the sixth century C.E., China had been reunified,
under the short-lived Sui dynasty. Public Taoist institutions were
now well established, drawing many Buddhist monks and nuns into
their ranks. A degree of friction developed between Taoism and
Buddhism on the institutional level and continued for the next two
or three centuries, with the salutary effect of allowing neither to
become too complacent for too long.
The Sui dynasty was soon replaced by the T’ang dynasty (618-
906), under which Chinese civilisation enjoyed a new golden age,
extending its cultural and economic influence into the surrounding
nations of Asia. During the T’ang dynasty, Buddhism flourished,
with a number of great specialist schools emerging into
prominence. Nevertheless, Taoism still enjoyed considerable
official favour and support; for a time civil service examinations
based on Taoist classics were even established alongside the
traditional conventional examinations in Confucianism.
A curious episode in the history of T’ang dynasty Taoism is the
death of two emperors after ingesting alchemical immortality
potions. The Pao-p u-tzu notwithstanding, material alchemy and the
search for literal physical immortality had in fact been repudiated
centuries before in such classics as the Chuang-tzu and Ts’an t’ung
ch 7; but repeated denunciation of such practises in later literature
suggests that they continued to exist.
The incongruity of the age-old search for alchemical gold and
physical immortality with the widely recognised evidence ancient
Taoists give of advanced knowledge of psychological and physical
realities only recently rediscovered by modern science has often led
to the question of whether there was any real connection between
different forms of activity lumped together under the name of
Taoism. Although Taoist literature openly acknowledges the
existence of ignorant experimentation and fraudulent practises,
nevertheless it has been suggested that imperial poisoning were not
mere superstitious bungling but intentional assassination; and that
behind alchemical experimentation associated with Taoism was a
conscious ploy to harness human greed to human progress by using
it to motivate research in the natural sciences.
After the fall of the T’ang dynasty, various sects of Taoism
continued to thrive, with increasing organisation of sacred texts,
rites, and local settlements. A Taoist canon was compiled in 1013,
and an encyclopedic digest of its contents was also composed by
the editors of the canon.
Not long after this collection of Taoist scriptures into a canon,
three new schools arose, giving a new face of Taoism. These were
the Absolute One, the True Great Way, and the Complete Reality
schools. Active in northern China under alien rule, these attracted
many followers from all walks of life. Many Buddhist centres,
abandoned by Chinese Buddhists in the years of turmoil brought by
the northern conquerors, were now taken over by these new Taoists.
The Complete Reality School, a highly purified form of Taoism
showing a strong affinity with Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism, was
particularly powerful and prominent, noted for its humanitarian
works as well as its production of mystics of high attainment.
During the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), Complete Reality Taoists
were charged with a new compilation of the Taoist canon, and thus
the present form of the canon contains many works by adepts of this
Two main formats were employed by Complete Reality teachers
and writers: records of sayings or short essays similar to those of
the Ch’an Buddhist masters, and the ancient language of spiritual
alchemy, largely based on the imagery of the I Ching. Unlike Ch’an
Buddhist works, however, the Complete Reality Taoist records of
sayings, essays, and poetry include those of numerous female
adepts; and unlike ancient alchemical texts, Complete Reality
alchemical writings contain a considerable measure of explicit
One of the most important figures in the emergence of the
Complete Reality movement was the eleventh-century adept Chang
Po-tuan, who became known as the founder of the southern sect of
the Complete Reality school. Chang is particularly known for is
classic Understanding Reality , which has been a standard text of
spiritual alchemy ever since, ranked on a par with the ancient
Born into a family of Confucian scholars, Chang Po-tuan
continued in this tradition but eventually extended his interests into
many fields, including astronomy, mathematics, and medicine. As
his Understanding Reality attests, he also studied Ch’an Buddhism
in depth and did extensive research in alchemical literature.
According to his own statement, Chang was prompted to compose
his alchemical treaties by the enormous confusion he found in the
exegetical literature based on earlier alchemical works.
Although Chang spent many years associating with Buddhists ad
Taoists in search of transcendental knowledge, he was not to meet
his real teacher until he was over eighty years of age. He then
learned the Taoist secrets of restoration of vitality and energy, and
ultimately mastered the spiritual teachings. He reached a high
degree of mystic attainment and finally passed away at the age of
ninety-nine after transmitting the inner teachings of Taoism through
his writings and personal contacts.
Although Chang had a number of successful disciples, he is said
to have been “punished by heaven ” three times for passing on
secrets of alchemy to unworthy people. After this he retired from
the world and wrote his magnum opus, Understanding Reality ,
through which he said sincere people could learn the process of
Another of Chang’s important writings, translated here as The
Inner Teachings of Taoism, presents a summary of Taoist practise
in the alchemical format. It is a simplified, condensed version of the
teachings of Understanding Reality, giving the ain outlets of the
alchemical work in twenty short verses. This text is presented here
with a modern explanation written by the great Taoist commentator
Liu I-ming in 1808.
The Inner Teachings of Taoism became a very popular text,
perhaps because of its bravery and accessibility. It was originally
untitled, but later became as Four Hundred Words on the Gold
Elixir. According to Liu I-ming ’s introduction,
The text is phrased in a simple and concise manner; the
meaning is evident and clear. This work and Chang’s
Understanding Reality are like inside and outside:
Understanding Reality gives a detailed breakdown of the
“medicinal ingredients” and “firing process” of spiritual
alchemy, whereas this treatise gives a general summary of
the whole subject. The two works are one yet two, two yet
Although this treatise has been annotated and explained
many times since its composition in the Sung dynasty, these
interpretations are either in terms of material alchemy or in
terms of psychosomatic exercises: it is impossible to find a
single commentary that conveys the reality, expresses the
spirit, and reveals the hidden dimensions of this treatise.
I could not bear to let this precious work of the Founder be
buried away, so I have made a detailed explanation of it,
section by section, analysing the metaphors and clearly
pointing out what the “crucible,” “furnace,” “medicines,”
“firing,” “doing,” and “nondoing” are. Every word is
clarified, every phrase analysed; I have torn away the shell to
expose the pit, broken open the bones to reveal the marrow.
The jewels of this treasure chest are set out clearly in the
open, in hopes that readers will understand at a glance and
not be deceived by misleading interpretations.
Following his verse-by-verse elucidation of Chang Po-tuan’s text,
Liu I-ming gives a summery in classic fashion with twenty verses of
his own composition. Because of the general nature of Chang’s text,
Liu then adds notes on essentials of Taoist study and secrets of
alchemy, to clarify practical procedure in an orderly fashion. He
explains this appendix in his introduction:
After finishing the explanation of Chang’s text, I was still
concerned that students might try to seek results without due
regard for process, mistakenly hoping for immediate effects.
Therefore I have added twenty-four essentials and twenty-
four secrets, to enable students to proceed in an orderly
fashion, ascending from lowliness to the heights. Those who
practise with their feet on solid ground will eventually reach
profound attainment of self-realisation without wasting any
Liu I-ming was one of the foremost interpreters of Taoist classics
in his time, and from a modern point of view his commentaries are
unsurpassed in clarity. Deeply versed in both noumenal
Confucianism and Ch’an Buddhism, he was dedicated to restoring
the original principles and practises of Complete Reality Taoism.
He believed that a point had been reached where there was more
harm than benefit in the practise of veiling the Taoist teachings in
esoteric language, and undertook to reveal the meaning of the
alchemical classics in plain language. To this end, he not only
elucidated the inner teachings of numerous ancient texts, but also
composed a systematic study of important terminology; as he
Transmission of the true Tao has been lost for a long time,
not just recently. After I had met genuine teachers, I
compared the various alchemical classics and really found
out the meaning of their symbolic language. Therefore I
revealed what I had learned from my teachers in my
explanations of the Triplex Unity, Understanding Reality,
and other texts. Yet I still feared that students might have
difficulty in gaining consistent and comprehensive
understanding, so I wrote a treatise on symbolic language.
This exposition of Taoist symbolism is also presented in this
volume, again with Liu’s own poems summarising each point under
Generally speaking, Liu’s explanations consist of three distinct
levels of presentation, and the key to reading his works in such a
way as to extract the essence of Taoist teaching lies in
distinguishing these three levels. The three types of presentation Liu
uses may be described as illustration of traditional use of esoteric
terminology in Complete Reality teaching, repudiation of
interpretations considered spurious by Complete Reality Taoists,
revelations of inner meaning in plain language.
In the course of his explanations, Liu will often speak in symbols,
thereby demonstrating didactic manipulation of the esoteric
terminology of elements, yin and yang, I Ching signs, and so on.
Since ancient times this manner of expression has been used for
several purposes: concealment, diversion, concentration,
identification of initiates and imitators, and stimulation of thought.
The use of symbolism is therefore an expedient, as the ancient
Tao te ching indicates, and its use depends on attendant
circumstances. Liu’s main purpose is to render esoteric language
unnecessary, and the meaning of the teaching can be grasped
without reference to these symbolic discourses. The value of Liu’s
symbolic presentations comes after the inner meaning is understood,
as they can then be used as keys for unlocking the meanings of other
Another secondary level of Liu’s presentations is his repudiation
of certain interpretations traditionally considered spurious by
Complete Reality Taoists. These interpretations, and the practises
based thereon, are generally referred to as “side doors” and are said
to range from thoroughly aberrated and harmful “deviant paths” to
useful but minor “auxiliary techniques” that may nevertheless
sidetrack and injure untutored or obsessive enthusiasts. Liu
People of later times did not search out the meaning of the
alchemical classics, but just stuck to the symbols:
Confucians took them to be superstitious nonsense, while
Taoists took them in a superficial manner. In extreme cases,
people fixated on the symbols and arbitrarily invented all
sorts of practises, getting caught up in sidetracks and deviant
practises. Countless people have harmed themselves
mentally and physically in this way. Surely this was not the
intent of the ancients when they evoked images in symbolic
Repudiation of the “side doors” actually goes back at least as far
as the Chuang-tzu and is even more explicit in the Triplex Unity , a
millennium before the emergence of the Complete Reality School of
Taoism. It is reiterated in many Complete Reality texts, but there are
variations in the degree to which auxiliary techniques are accepted
and applied by various teachers at various times.
In the southern sect of Complete Reality, founded by Chang Po-
tuan, there is more emphasis on energy work than in the more
austere northern sect, which Liu I-ming followed. This difference is
explained by the advanced age of many initiates of the southern
sect, beginning with Chang Po-tuan himself, who did not attain the
Tao until he was in his eighties. Energy work, used for rejuvenation
in order to sustain the spiritual work, is naturally often emphasised
more, and in different forms, for older people than for younger
people. In any case, these practises are said to be the most
dangerous, and the need for expert guidance means that they may be
publicly repudiated by those who practise them privately.
The critical aspect of Liu I-ming’s work, rejecting the “side
doors,” may be viewed as representing the most radical form of the
traditional Complete Reality distinction between the quintessence of
Taoism and tangential physical or psychosomatic techniques. Two
basic forms of the interpretations repudiated as spurious are false
analogy and literal interpretation of symbolic expressions. While
Liu also stressed the importance of vital energy and physical health,
in interpreting Taoist symbolism he always rejected physical
interpretations in favour of metaphysical interpretations.
This small volume, when approached with these distinctions in
mind, will yield an overall understanding of Taoism as it is
presented in the alchemical format, in terms of three levels of
realisation: the reality, the appearance, and the illusion; or, in other
words, the inner teachings, the outer husk, and the random spinoffs.
In this sense, this volume is presented as an introductory study of a
major manifestation of Taoism, including the principles, practises,
The Inner Teachings
TRUE EARTH ARRESTS TRUE LEAD;
TRUE LEAD CONTROLS TRUE MERCURY.
LEAD AND MERCURY RETURN TO TRUE EARTH;
BODY AND MIND ARE TRANQUIL AND STILL.
Earth dwells in the centre, as the mother of myriad beings. It is
possible thereby to blend the elementary forces, produce and nurture
myriad beings. Earth is that whereby origin and completion are
effected. The true earth referred to here is not material earth; it is
the true intent of the human body, which has no location. True
intent is the director of myriad affairs; it controls the vital spirit,
sustains essence and life, occupies and guards the centre of the
being. Because it has functions similar to earth, it is called true
earth. Insofar as it is truthful and whole, without fragmentation, it is
also called true faith. Because it contains the impulse of life within
it, it is also called the centre. Because it encloses everything, it is
also called the yellow court. Because it is one in action and repose,
it is also called the medicinal spoon. Because it can harmonise yin
and yang, it is also called the yellow woman. Because it holds the
pattern of the noumenon, it is also called the crossroads. There are
many different names, all describing one thing, this is true intent.
Lead is dense and heavy, hard and strong, lasts long without
disintegrating; what is called true lead here is not ordinary lead, but
is the formless, immaterial true sense of real knowledge in the
human body. This true sense is outwardly dark but inwardly bright,
strong and unbending, able to ward off external afflictions, able to
stop internal aberrations. It is symbolised by lead and so is called
the true lead. Because its strength and vigour are within, it is also
called the black tiger; because its energy is associated with metal, it
is also called the white tiger. Because it is not constrained by things,
it is also called iron man. Because its light illumines myriad
existents, it is also called the golden flower. Because it is the pivot
of creation, it is also called the North Star. Because it conceals light
within darkness, it is also called metal within water. Because it
contains masculinity within femininity, it is also called the rabbit in
the moon. There are many different names, all describing this one
thing, true sense.
Mercury is something lively and active, light and buoyant, soft
and yielding, easily running off. Here what is called true mercury is
not ordinary material mercury, but the formless, immaterial spiritual
essence of conscious knowledge in the human body. The spiritual
essence is outwardly firm yet inwardly flexible, utterly empty and
metaphysical, unfathomable in its changing manifestations; call and
it responds, touch it and it moves. It is symbolised by mercury, so it
is also called true mercury. Because it goes out and in
unpredictably, it is also called the dragon. Because its energy is
associated with the east, it is also called the blue dragon. Because it
is developed by passing through tempering by fire, it is also called
the red dragon. Because its nature is soft and loving, it is also called
the wood mother. Because it is yang outside and yin inside, it is also
called the girl. Because it contains femininity within masculinity, it
is also called the raven in the sun. Because its reality is hidden
within fire, it is also called mercury within cinnabar. Because its
light is penetrating, it is also called flowing pearl. There are many
different names used to depict this one thing, spiritual essence.
True intent, true sense, and spiritual essence are the three jewels
in our bodies, true earth, true lead , and true mercury. These three
jewels have primordial, whole, unified energy, which is complete,
without any defect. This cannot be called intent, sense, or essence -
it is all one reality. But then when it mixes with temporally acquired
conditioning, and yang culminates, giving rise to yin, the single
energy divides into three. Thus there come to be the terms intent,
sense, and essence. Once the real divides, the false comes forth; the
seeds or routine take command, sense faculties and data stir
together, and habit energy grows day by day: true intent becomes
adulterated with artificial intentions, true sense becomes adulterated
with arbitrary feelings, and spiritual essence becomes adulterated
with temperament. Aberration and sanity mix, the artificial confuses
the real, essence and life are shaken; day by day, year by year, the
real disappears and all becomes false. Positivity exhausted,
negativity complete, how can death be avoided?
When the real people have taught others to return to the
fundamental and go back to the original, thereby to preserve essence
and life, they have all taught people to restore these three things to
reality. The path of restoration starts with knowing the original true
intent. When you know the true intent, if you give your mind to it,
the jewel of faith is in your hand; instantly all existents are empty,
and you observe everything with detachment. External things cannot
move you, and sane energy gradually arises. When consciousness of
reality is constantly present, arbitrary feelings evaporate and true
sense emerges, always responsive yet always calm, like true earth
grabbing true lead so that the lead does not sink.
Once true sense appears, not concealing, not deceiving, the
original spirit is always present and the discriminating spirit does
not arise; then the temperament sublimates and the spiritual essence
becomes manifest. This is like true lead controlling true mercury, so
that mercury does not fly up.
The method of arresting and controlling is not a matter of
conscious contrivance; it is natural, spontaneous arresting and
controlling, arresting without arresting, controlling without
controlling. Because real truthfulness is in the centre, the yin and
yang of the sense of real knowledge and the essence of conscious
knowledge cleave to one another, the two energies combine and
What is difficult to accomplish in alchemy is the combination of
essence and sense. The combination of essence and sense without
imbalance is called centring. When the intent, essence, and sense
meet, they are as before one energy; what had gone returns; what
was lost is restored. This is like lead and mercury returning to the
earth pot, stable and balanced, impervious to all conditioning
influences. The illusory body and the stubborn mind naturally
become quiet and still. The errant movements of the illusory body
and the stubborn mind all come from separation of intent, essence,
and sense; when these three are united, the real returns and the
artificial quiesces - how could body and mind be stirred?
NOTHINGNESS PRODUCES WHITE SNOW;
QUIESCENCE PRODUCES YELLOW SPROUTS.
THE FIRE WARM IN THE JADE FURNACE,
OVER THE CRUCIBLE FLIES VIOLET MIST.
The previous section says that when mercury and lead return to true
earth, body and mind do not stir; then one has entered the state of
empty silence. But emptiness requires that emptiness reach the point
where there is nothing to be emptiness; only then is it called the
ultimate of emptiness. Silence requires that silence reach the point
of utter quiescence, only then is it called the ultimate of silence.
When you reach nothingness, the primordial unity begins to emerge;
when you attain quiescence, the primal true positive energy comes
back. Therefore the text says that “white snow” and “yellow
sprouts” are produced. White snow symbolises the energy of the
primordial unity; this is like the metaphor of “white light arising in
the empty room.” “Yellow sprouts” appear with the return of the
living potential; they symbolise the existence of movement within
stillness. The empty room produces white light; when stillness
culminates, there is movement; within black there is white; within
yin there is yang - the primordial energy comes back, and the gold
elixir takes form.
Once the gold elixir has form, it is urgent to use a gentle fire to
incubate it, without either neglect or force, not slacking off for a
moment. The “jade furnace” is the furnace of the flexibility of earth ,
symbolising the calm serenity of the work, not being hasty or
excited. The crucible is the crucible of the firmness of heaven ,
symbolising firmness and stability of will, not changing. The
“purple mist flying” symbolises the sudden opening up of
knowledge and wisdom when the work is consummated. When the
spiritual sprouts are first born, use gentle fire to warmly nurture
them, without either obsession or indifference, guarding against
danger; progressing from weakness to strength, rawness to ripeness,
when the firing is complete and the elixir is made, the light of
wisdom shoots out - this is like violet mist flying up from the
crucible when the medicine in the crucible is fully developed.
LOTUSES BLOOM IN THE FLOWER POND;
GOLDEN WAVES ARE QUIET ON THE SPIRITUAL WATER.
DEEP IN THE NIGHT, THE MOON JUST BRIGHT,
HEAVEN AND EARTH ARE IN ONE ROUND MIRROR.
The flower pond symbolises the openness of consciousness; the
spiritual water symbolises true essence; the lotuses symbolise the
light of wisdom; the golden waves symbolise objects of sense.
When the spiritual sprouts have been warmly nurtured until their
energy is complete, the flower of mind blooms and the light of
wisdom arises. Therefore it says lotuses bloom in the flower pond.
Once the light of wisdom arises, inwardly thoughts do not sprout, so
essence is calm; then external things are not taken in and feelings
are forgotten. Therefore the text says that the golden waves are quiet
on the spiritual water. When essence is calm and feelings are
forgotten, even if one is in the midst of myriad things, one is not
deceived by myriad things. Round and bright, the mind is like the
full moon shining deep in the night, its light pervading above and
below, heaven and earth', the gold elixir crystallises in the great void
RED SAND REFINES TO POSITIVE ENERGY;
LIQUID SILVER COOKS INTO METAL VITALITY.
METAL VITALITY AND POSITIVE ENERGY,
RED SAND AND LIQUID SILVER.
The preceding three sections sum up the overall process of alchemy;
from here on is a detailed analysis of the finer subtleties of the
medicinal substances and firing process.
“Red sand” (cinnabar) is associated with the turbulence of the
energy of fire and symbolises volatility in people. “Liquid silver”
(quicksilver) is associated with the movement natural to water and
symbolises the human mentality in people. Positive energy gives
birth to beings; this symbolises the real essence in people. The
vitality of metal is lustre; this symbolises the consciousness of
reality in people.
Lu Tsu said, “The seven-reversion restored elixir is a matter of
people first refining themselves and awaiting the time.” The classic
Understanding Reality ( Wu chen p’ien ) says, “If you want to
successfully cultivate the nine-reversion, you must first refine
yourself and master your mind.” Shang Yang Tzu said, “Restoring
the elixir is very easy; refining the self is very hard.” These
statements all say that if you want to practise the great Tao, you
must first refine yourself.
The essential point in self-refinement starts with controlling anger
and desire. The energy of anger is the aberrant fire of the volatile
nature, which erupts upon confrontation and is indifferent to life,
like a conflagration burning up a mountain, which nothing can stop.
If you do not exert effort to quell it, refining it into something
without smoke or flame, it can easily obscure reality. “Red sand
refines to positive energy” means taking this volatility and refining
it into neutral true essence.
As for desire, when the discriminating spirit of the human
mentality sees objects and encounters things, it flies up; the senses
become active all at once, and the feelings and emotions arise, like a
gang of bandits stealing valuables, whom none can defend against.
If you do not exert effort to block it and cook it into something that
does not move or stir, it can easily thwart the process of the Tao.
“Liquid silver cooks into metal vitality” means taking the human
mentality and cooking it into the mindless consciousness of reality.
The extinction of the volatile nature and the appearance of true
sense are like red sand transmuting into positive energy, ever to be
warm, gentle essence. The death of the human mentality and the
presence of consciousness of reality are like liquid silver changing
into metal vitality, ever to be luminous mind.
Since reality is always there inside falsehood, and falsehood is
not outside reality, when this nature and this mind go through the
cooking and refining of fire, they become the real essence and the
consciousness of reality. So the red sand turns to positive energy,
and the liquid silver turns into metal vitality; if they are not put
through a refinement process, they will always be the volatile nature
and the human mentality, and even positive energy will turn into red
sand, even metal vitality will turn into liquid silver. Therefore the
text says, “ Metal vitality and positive energy, red sand and liquid
silver.” The false can become real, and the real can become false -
the difference is a matter of refining or not refining. So practitioners
should first quell anger and desire in order to refine the self.
Restoring the elixir takes place momentarily; refining the self
requires ten months. The work of refining the self is no small
THE SOLAR YANG SOUL, THE EAT OF THE JADE RABBIT;
THE LUNAR YIN SOUL, THE MARROW OF THE GOLD RAVEN:
PUT THEM IN THE CRUCIBLE AND TRANSMUTE THEM
INTO A FLOOD OF WATER.
The preceding section speaks of the work of refining the self; this
one speaks of the secret of gathering the medicines. The solar yang
soul and the gold raven symbolise the finest part of conscious
knowledge; the jade rabbit and the lunar yin soul symbolise the light
of wisdom of real knowledge. Without the light of real knowledge,
conscious knowledge cannot perceive far; without the manifestation
of conscious knowledge, real knowledge cannot convey its light.
Therefore the text says, “The solar yang soul, the fat of the jade
rabbit; the lunar yin soul, the marrow of the gold raven,” indicating
that those two true medicines are to be put into the metaphysical
crucible and quickly refined by fierce cooking with the true fire of
concentration, causing them to mix and combine so that they merge
like a flood of water, without the slightest pollution. Only then is the
Conscious knowledge is flighty, and real knowledge easily
becomes concealed: as soon as they act up, one should immediately
put them back in the crucible and make them stay there, not letting
them leave. This crucible is not a material crucible with form; as
explained before, it is the crucible of firmness of heaven. This is the
firm, strong, sane energy of the positive yang of heaven. When the
sane energy is always present, unified awareness pure and true, the
mind is stable and the will is far-reaching, growing stronger as time
goes on, and real knowledge and conscious knowledge are forged
into one whole.
THE MEDICINES ARE PRODUCED IN THE OCCULT OPENING;
THE FIRING PROCESS ARISES IN THE YANG FURNACE.
WHEN THE DRAGON AND TIGER HAVE MATED,
THE GOLD CRUCIBLE PRODUCES A MYSTIC PEARL.
The medicines are the medicines of real knowledge and conscious
knowledge. The occult opening is an opening of profound subtlety,
where yin and yang divide, and also where essence and life abide.
This is what is called the opening of the mysterious pass. This
opening has many different names - the opening of the mysterious
female, the door of birth and death, the house of enlivening and
killing, the opening of nothingness, the gate of myriad wonders. All
these terms refer to the same thing.
This opening is not existent, not nonexistent, not material, not
void; it has no location or form, but is in ecstasy and profound
abstraction. It is not inside or outside. If you try to find it in terms of
place or form, you will miss it by a long shot.
The firing process is the process of the work. The yang furnace is
the work of intensive refinement by fierce cooking. It is not that
there really is a furnace; because of the use of firing work to refine
the medicines of real and conscious knowledge, it is called a
The dragon is associated with wood and symbolises essence,
emerging from conscious knowledge. The essence of conscious
knowledge transforms unfathomably, so it is represented as a
dragon. The tiger is associated with metal and symbolises sense,
emerging from real knowledge. The sense of real knowledge is firm
and strong and unbending, so it is represented as a tiger.
There is temperamental nature, and there is innate essence, there
is emotional feeling, and there is unerring sense. Temperamental
nature is acquired, whereas innate essence is primal; emotional
feeling is secondary, whereas unerring sense is inherent.
The gold crucible is the crucible of the firmness of heaven. The
mystic pearl is another name for the gold elixir. Because the gold
elixir pill is round and bright, it is represented as a pearl; because its
spiritual subtlety is hard to express, it is also represented as a mystic
The preceding section said that the solar yang soul and the lunar
yin soul transmute into one flood - the gold elixir is formed. But in
alchemy the production of the medicines has its time and the
operation of the fire has its process; if you do not know the time of
the production of the medicines and the process of the operation of
the fire, the gold elixir will not crystallise. In Understanding
Reality , our author writes, “Even if you know the cinnabar and lead ,
it is useless if you do not know the firing process. It all depends on
the power of practical application; the slightest deviation, and you
will fail to crystallise the elixir.”
When the two medicines, real knowledge and conscious
knowledge, arise in the occult opening, one should take the
opportunity to get to work, intensively refining them to burn away
conditioned temperament and emotional feeling, overcome the
ordinary dragon and ordinary tiger, and cause the true dragon and
true tiger of primordial true essence and sense to mate in the gold
crucible, becoming inseparably bound to one another, naturally
producing a mystic pearl which is round and bright, pervading the
universe without obstruction.
However, when these medicines arise in the occult opening,
sharing the qualities of heaven and earth , sharing the light of sun
and moon, sharing the order of the four seasons, they are difficult to
obtain and easy to lose. When the firing process conforms to what is
appropriate, the real solidifies while the false evaporates, and the
gold elixir immediately crystallises. If the firing process is even
slightly off, the real departs while the false comes, and you stumble
by even while it is right before you. The classic Guide to Putting in
the medicine ( Ju yao ching ) says, “Reception of energy is fortunate;
prevent it from turning into disaster.” It is necessary to be careful.
THIS OPENING IS NOT AN ORDINARY APERTURE:
MADE BY HEAVEN AND EARTH TOGETHER,
IT IS CALLED THE LAIR OF SPIRIT AND ENERGY;
WITHIN IT ARE THE VITALITIES OF WATER AND FIRE.
The preceding section said that the occult opening can produce the
medicines. Because this opening is most abstruse and subtle, in
ecstasy and deep abstraction, if you aim for it, you lose it; if you
conceptualise it, that is not it. It is not one of the ordinary apertures
in the body, which have form and shape and can be pointed to; it is
formless, invisible, a sacred opening that cannot be pointed out. In
the human body, this opening is not the “yellow court” (between the
heart and naval), not the “crimson chamber” (at the solar plexus),
not the “field of elixir” (below the naval), not the “ocean of energy”
(below the naval), not the coccyx, not in front of the kidneys and the
genitals, not the middle of the spine where the ribs join, not the
active and passive energy channels, not the “luminous hall” (an inch
behind the midpoint between the brows), not the “centre of
tranquillity” (in the midbrain), not the “celestial valley” (at the top
of the head), not the “jade pillow” (at the back of the head), not the
mouth and nose. Its creation has to do with the yin and yang
energies of heaven and earth joining in the centre of space.
Heaven = is firm, associated with yang; earth ee is flexible,
associated with yin: when the two energies, firm and flexible, join
together, then there is this opening. When the two energies, firm and
flexible, are separate, this opening does not exist. Metaphorically,
the open space between heaven above and earth below is this occult
If people have firmness without flexibility, or are only flexible
and not firm, this is solitary yin or isolated yang - with the
adulterated energy therein suffocatingly full, how can there be the
occult opening? Since there is no occult opening, the dynamic of
energy has ceased - how can it produce medicine? Therefore the
text says the occult opening is made by heaven and earth together.
Because it is made by combination of heaven and earth , it is also
called the lair of spirit and energy. Spirit is the subtlety of
consciousness that is beyond conception; energy is the harmony
living potential. Spirit is yin and yang, represented as fire == and as
the sun. Energy is yang within yin, represented as water and as
Heaven and earth , yin and yang, join together, with an opening in
the centre space, wherein sun and moon come and go; when
people’s firmness and flexibility join together, there is an opening in
the centre space, wherein spirit and energy congeal. The principle is
the same. Therefore it is called the lair of spiritual energy, with the
vitalities of water and fire in it.
People are born endowed with the vitalities of sun and moon
(yang and yin), so the spirit and energy in the body are the vitalities
of water and fire.
This opening cannot be sought consciously, nor can it be grasped
unconsciously. Though one depends on personal instruction from a
teacher, still it must be realised by oneself. When you discover this
opening, water and fire, the medicines, appear at hand and need not
be sought externally. Right away you can cull them at will. It is too
bad that students everywhere practise concentration on specific
defined “apertures” in the head and torso - how can they stabilise
spirit and energy and preserve essence and life that way?
WOOD MERCURY, ONE DASH OF RED;
METAL LEAD, THREE POUNDS OF BLACK.
MERCURY AND LEAD COMBINE INTO GRANULES
THAT SHINE VIOLET-GOLD.
The preceding section said that the occult opening has the vitalities
of water and fire ; it is by the vitalities of fire and water that the
elixir can be formed. The vitality of fire is wood and mercury, wood
and mercury are buoyant and symbolise spiritual essence. The
vitality of water is metal lead ; metal is dense and tends to sink, and
symbolises true essence. Spiritual essence, containing the fire of
open awareness, is conscious knowledge, yang outside and yin
inside. The yin is less than the yang; yin hides inside the yang. That
inside yin is associated with fire, so it is called “one dash of red.”
True sense, containing stable sane energy, is real knowledge, yin
outside and yang inside. The yang is less than the yin; yang hides
inside the yin. That outside yin is associated with water, so it is
called “three pounds of black.”
“One dash of red” symbolises a small amount; “three pounds of
black” symbolises a large amount - it is not that there really are
measures of one dash and three pounds. The method of alchemy
involves gathering the bit of true fire of open awareness within
conscious knowledge and refining out the adulterated energy of
confused feelings, then gathering the pure spiritual water of
desirelessness within real knowledge and extinguishing the baseless
burning of the temperament. When the true fire and spiritual water
join into one, water and fire balance each other, true feeling and
spiritual essence combine, and real knowledge and conscious
knowledge cleave to one another; then sense is itself essence, and
essence is itself sense. Utterly conscious of reality, consciousness
utterly real, the unified energy functions the same as heaven and
earth. This is likened to lead and mercury being forged into spiritual
granules; when the firing is complete, the medicine is perfected and
turns violet-gold, never again to change.
THE HOME GARDEN’S SCENERY IS BEAUTIFUL;
THE WEATHER IS THAT OF SPRING.
WITHOUT WORKING WITH PLOUGH AND HOE,
THE WHOLE EARTH IS GOLDEN.
The preceding section said that the elixir can be compounded with
lead and mercury. People might suppose that this means it is made
by forging ordinary material lead and mercury, but they still do not
realise that these are not the ordinary material substances, but are
the beautiful scenery of the home garden within oneself. Since real
knowledge and conscious knowledge, which are one’s own true
lead and mercury , are naturally present in one’s home, they need not
be sought externally; the scenery is beautiful. Yin and yang being in
harmony, the mechanism of life unceasing, is like the weather in
spring; the medicinal sprouts grow, without needing the work of
plough and hoe. White snow flies, filling the sky; everywhere there
grow yellow sprouts, which you can gather as you go along -
everything is the Tao; wherever you walk there is treasure at every
step, as though the whole earth were gold.
TRUE LEAD ARISES IN WATER;
ITS FUNCTION IS IN THE PALACE OF FIRE:
TURNING BLACK TO RED,
FOG IS THICK IN THE CRUCIBLE.
The preceding section says the scenery is inherent in the home
garden; nevertheless, though it is inherent, it is not at your command
without thoroughgoing work. Because the lead of real knowledge is
sunken into yin, it is symbolised by the water trigram =-=, yin
outside and yang inside, yang enclosed by yin, acquired influences
covering up the inherent sane energy so that the sane energy cannot
get out by itself. If you want to bring it out, the function is in the
palace of fire = ; conscious knowledge, solid outside and empty
inside, is symbolised by the fire trigram, containing the true fire of
open awareness. When you use this true fire to burn away acquired
influences, then real knowledge appears and merges with conscious
knowledge, turning black to red, real knowledge becoming
conscious knowledge. Yang, capturing yin, obtains nurturance; yin
and yang cleave to one another, producing a harmonious energy,
like a thick fog staying inside the crucible without dispersing.
TRUE MERCURY COMES FROM FIRE;
ITS FUNCTION IS IN WATER.
THE MAIDEN GOES TO THE SOUTH GARDEN;
HER HAND GRIPS THE JADE BALUSTRADE.
The true mercury, conscious knowledge, secretes the adulterated
energy of discriminatory awareness; it is symbolised by the trigram
fire =, being light outside and dark inside. The discriminatory
awareness uses consciousness to produce illusions; seeing fire, it
flies - without the lead of real knowledge to control it, the
discriminating awareness would cause trouble, and it would be
impossible to return to reality. Therefore, the function lies in water.
Water symbolises real knowledge, which has the pure “water” of
true unity. When you see this pure water to extinguish the aberrant
fire of discriminating awareness, after the aberrant fire goes out,
conscious knowledge returns to reality. The “south garden”
represents fire; the “jade balustrade” represents water: ; the “maiden”
is another name for conscious knowledge, so called because
conscious knowledge is yin within yang. When conscious
knowledge is controlled by real knowledge, yin comes to yang and
is not moved by external things; conscious knowledge cleaves to
real knowledge, real knowledge cleaves to conscious knowledge.
This is “the maiden going to the south garden, her hand gripping the
jade balustrade,” the functions balancing and completing one
THUNDER AND LAKE ARE NOT EAST AND WEST;
WATER AND FIRE ARE NOT NORTH AND SOUTH.
THE HANDLE OF THE DIPPER CIRCLES THE HEAVENS,
REQUIRING PEOPLE TO UNDERSTAND HOW TO AGGREGATE.
The preceding sections speak of wood/mercury, metal/ lead, water ,
and fire mixing together; people often imagine these terms to apply
to forms and locations within the body, associating fire with the
heart and the south, associating water with the genitals and the
north, associating wood with thunder and the liver and the east,
associating metal with lake and the lungs and the west. They just
take the heart, genitals, liver, and lungs for water =-=, fire =,
thunder =_=, and lake ==, and have actually not gotten the true
tradition. They still do not know that thunder stands for our true
essence, lake stands for our true sense, water stands for our real
knowledge, and fire stands for our conscious knowledge. These four
are the primordial true “four forms” inherent in us; because of
mixture with acquired adulterated energy, they each dwell in a
separate place and cannot join. Now, if you want to restore them to
unity as one energy, this requires the work of aggregation.
The work of aggregation means turning the celestial mechanism
of the dipper handle. The dipper handle is the fifth, sixth, and
seventh stars of the Big Dipper. Where these stars sit is unlucky;
what they point to is lucky. They turn, as it were, the constellations
through the heavens in the course of a year. In the human body, this
refers to the point of true sense of real knowledge. One name of true
sense is the iron man, in that it is strong and unbending, able to give
life and to kill; this is also like the dipper handle in the sky. After
birth, it is polluted by external influences, seduced by external
things; the dipper handle points outward, not inward; the enlivening
energy is outside, the killing energy is inside. Following the course
of nature, the young mature, the mature age, the aged die; this goes
on and on in repetitious cycles, with no hope of escape. If one
knows the mechanism of life and death and turns around the dipper
handle, when one changes one’s orientation, one arrives at one’s
homeland and can thereby take over the evolutionary cycle and thus
join the four forms and five elemental energies, so that the elixir
soon forms, without effort.
But most people cannot recognise the dipper handle of true sense;
they mistakenly take physical locations in the four directions in the
body to be thunder , lake , water , and fire , and indulge in bogus
practises, vainly imagining formation of the elixir. Does no one
wonder why they struggle all their lives, only to grow old with no
attainment? Is this not to be lamented?
THE FIRING PROCESS DOES NOT CALL FOR SET TIMES;
THE WINTER SOLSTICE IS NOT IN DECEMBER.
AS FOR THE RULES FOR BATHING, SPRING AND AUTUMN
ARE ALSO METAPHORS WITHOUT REALITY.
The preceding section states that thunder, lake, water, and fire have
special meanings and are not east, west, south, north. Not only that;
when it says in the alchemical classics to advance the yang fire in
December, repel the yin convergence in May, and bathe in spring
and autumn, these are all just metaphors, without literal reality.
They do not really mean the four seasons.
In the course of nature’s cycle, the time when yang energy first
emerges from the earth is called the time of the rat, which
corresponds to the month of December and the hour of midnight.
The time when yin energy first emerges from the earth is called the
time of the horse, which corresponds to the month of May and the
hour of noon. The time when yang energy has risen midway
between heaven and earth is called the time of the hare, which
corresponds to the spring equinox and the hour of six A.M. The time
when the yin energy has risen halfway between heaven and earth is
called the time of the bird, which corresponds to the autumn
equinox and the hour of six P.M. So the rat and the horse are the
times when yin and yang have just arisen, and the hare and the bird
are the times when yin and yang are level. These are the rat, horse,
hare, and bird of the Tao of nature.
The Tao of alchemy takes the time of the rat as the time to
advance the yang fire, because when a point of yang light appears in
the body, it is like the winter solstice in December. When one yang
subtly arises, one should quickly advance the fire and gather it
assisting this bit of faint yang to gradually grow and develop, not
letting it fade away. This is what is called advancing the fire of yang
in December, or at midnight, the time of the rat.
The time of the horse is taken to be the time for repelling the yin
convergence because the arising in darkness of a point of yin energy
in the body is like the summer solstice in May of the lunar calendar.
When one yin comes to join, one should quickly work to repel it,
suppressing this bit of false yin, evaporating it as it grows, not
letting up for a moment. This is what is called operating the yin
In reality, yang and yin arise all the time. The arising of yang is
the time of the rat; the arising of yin is the time of the horse. These
are the living rat and horse within our bodies, not the dead rat and
horse of the calendar and clock. Therefore it says that the process
does not call for set times and the “winter solstice” is not in
December. The reason it mentions the time of the rat
(December/midnight) and not the time of the horse (May/noon) is
that the horse is contained within the rat. An ancient immortal said,
“No need to look for the rat and the horse in the season or time of
day; within the body there is naturally one yang arising.” Seeing
this, we can know that the winter solstice is not in December.
The Tao of alchemy takes spring and autumn, or six A.M. and six
P.M., as appropriate for bathing, because after the point of yang light
in the body has returned, it gradually grows and harmonises with
yin energy, neither too much nor too little, returning to balance, and
this is like the yang energy on earth in spring rising to midway
between heaven and energy at the spring equinox; one should stop
the firing and make the yin and yang equal and harmonious, not
advancing the fire excessively - this is the reason for “bathing.” It
does not mean one should bathe at the spring equinox. And when
the point of yin energy in the body comes to join, as it grows it
recedes and joins with yang energy, without imbalance, entering the
mean. It is also like the yin energy, in autumn rising to midway
between heaven and earth at the autumn equinox; one should stop
working and balance the firmness and flexibility, not repelling the
yin excessively - this is the reason for “bathing.” It does not mean
one should bathe at the autumn equinox. Therefore, the text says
that in the rules for bathing, spring and autumn are also metaphors
Our author’s Understanding Reality says, “When the moon in the
east and west reaches its season, punishment and reward are at hand;
medicine is patterned on this.” So we know that when advance and
recession in the growth of the medicine are spoken of in terms of
spring and autumn, it does not mean literally that one should bathe
in spring and autumn. Later people did not know the metaphorical
language of the alchemical classics and supposed that they mean to
advance yang in December and at midnight, the month and hour of
the rat, and to repel yin in May and at noon, the month and hour of
the horse, then to bathe at the spring equinox and six A.M. and at the
autumn equinox and six P.M., the months and hours of the hare and
bird. But if you use the calendar and clock to figure the rat, horse,
hare, and bird, think of this: the terms rat , horse , hare , and bird are
applied to years, months, days, and hours alike - which do you take
for the rule? Isn’t this a big mistake? When our author says that the
winter equinox is not in December, and that spring and autumn are
also empty metaphors, he gets rid of the misapprehensions of all
those who have gone off on tangents, and tells students to make a
careful distinction based on the real pattern. What can compare to
THE RAVEN’S LIVER AND THE RABBIT’S MARROW -
GRAB THEM AND PUT THEM BACK IN ONE PLACE.
GRAIN AFTER GRAIN, FROM VAGUENESS TO CLARITY.
The preceding section says that the firing process and bathing are
not in the times of the rat, horse, hare, and bird; it is all a matter of
teaching people to know the harmonisation of essence and sense, the
same energy of yin and yang. “The raven’s liver” is the vitality of
the sun; liver is dark, which is associated with wood , and so
symbolises the essence of conscious knowledge. “The rabbit’s
marrow” is the light of the moon; marrow is white, which is
associated with metal, so it symbolises the sense of real knowledge.
Conscious knowledge and real knowledge, true essence and true
sense, are the great medicines used in cultivating the elixir. Taking
these four and putting them together, operating the fire to cook and
refine them, they transmute into one energy. One energy
undifferentiated, the living potential is ever-present, unfailingly
growing from one yang to gradually reach the pure wholeness of six
yangs, going from vague to clear, the gold elixir developing
naturally. Here, “grab” does not mean forced action or effort; it
means causing them to remain and not letting them leave. When
they stay put, mixed thoughts do not arise and external influences
do not enter; the four are gathered in one place and do not conflict
with one another. “Grain after grain” means that when the basis is
established, the path develops and the yang energy gradually grows;
it does not literally mean there is the form of grains.
THE UNDIFFERENTIATED CONTAINS SPACE;
SPACE CONTAINS THE WORLD:
WHEN YOU LOOK FOR THE ROOT SOURCE,
IT IS THE SIZE OF A GRAIN.
The preceding section said the elixir can be made by the raven’s
liver and the rabbit’s marrow. This elixir is nothing but the energy
of primordial true unity inherent in our original, undifferentiated
beginning. This energy envelops space, and space envelops the
world. Enveloping space and the world, its size is measureless; yet
even though it is measureless, when you search out its root source, it
is no bigger than a grain. And though it is said to be like a grain, yet
it is imperceptible and ungraspable: “Vague and indefinable, therein
is an image; indefinable and vague, therein is something. Dark and
occult, therein is a vitality; that vitality is most real, therein is true
experience.” This image, this thing, this vitality, this experience, are
all what is called the energy of primordial unity. This energy is the
origin of heaven and earth , the mother of myriad things. It is truly
empty yet contains ineffable existence, ineffably existing while
inherently truly empty. It has nothing to do with great or small; it
cannot be defined as being or nonbeing; it is neither material nor
vacuous, yet both matter and emptiness. Let it go and it is
everywhere; roll it up and it hides in mystery. Its concealment and
revelation are unfathomable; its transmutations are unpredictable.
How can any concrete object be compared to it? If you know the
unitary energy within nondifferentiation, when you know the One,
myriad tasks are done, and practising the Tao is not difficult.
HEAVEN AND EARTH SHARE THE LIQUID OF REALITY;
SUN AND MOON CONTAIN THE VITALITY OF REALITY.
WHEN YOU UNDERSTAND THE FOUNDATION
OF WATER AND FIRE,
THE WORLD IS IN YOUR BODY.
The preceding section said that one grain can contain space and the
world. But the reality of this grain is inherent in our body and need
not be sought elsewhere. It is only necessary to understand how to
harmonise yin and yang. When yin and yang are not in harmony, the
energy of primordial unity does not return and the gold elixir does
Observe how when heaven and earth mate, the liquid of reality
descends and fosters the growth of myriad beings and things; when
sun and moon mate, the vitality of reality circulates and brings
about the four seasons. This is when yin does not leave yang and
yang does not leave yin; yin and yang join, containing the liquid of
reality and the vitality of reality - only then is there creation.
Otherwise, solitary yin does not give birth, solitary yang does not
foster growth; the mechanism of life has ceased, so where can
creation and evolution come from?
Our conscious knowledge and real knowledge are the heaven and
earth and sun and moon in our bodies. Conscious knowledge has
the yang energy of heaven , so it is heaven. The light emanated by
the yang energy is like the hollow in the fire trigram =, which
hollow is the sun. Real knowledge has the yin energy of earth , so it
is earth. The fine essence secreted by the yin energy is like the
fullness in the water trigram =-=, which fullness is the moon. So
heaven and earth, sun and moon, are all inherent in our bodies. It is
just that people do not know how to harmonise them, so yin and
yang are separated and the enlivening potential fades away,
ultimately returning to the Great Flux.
If you understand that the foundation of water and fire of real
knowledge and conscious knowledge originally belong to one
energy, and if you cultivate them backward, inverting water and
fire , using real knowledge to control conscious knowledge, using
conscious knowledge to nurture real knowledge, water and fire
balance each other, movement and stillness are as one; then mind is
Tao, Tao is mind, mind is the mind of Tao, body is the body of Tao,
sharing the qualities of heaven and earth , sharing the light of sun
and moon, sharing the order of the seasons - the whole world is
within one’s own body.
THE DRAGON COMES FROM THE EASTERN SEA;
THE TIGER COMES FROM THE WESTERN MOUNTAINS.
THE TWO BEASTS HAVE A BATTLE
AND TURN INTO THE MARROW OF HEAVEN AND EARTH.
The preceding section said that if you understand the foundation of
water and fire , the great Tao can be attained. Water and fire are
symbols of real knowledge and conscious knowledge; if you want
water and fire to balance and settle each other, it is necessary first to
join metal and wood.
Essence is associated with wood; dwelling in the east, it is the
property of the self, and because of its unfathomable fluidity it is
likened to a dragon. Sense is associated with metal; dwelling in the
west, it is the property of the other, and because of its unbending
strength it is likened to a tiger.
However, essence and sense both have differences in terms of
being true or false, primal or conditioned. The essence of round
luminosity and the formless sense are the true primal; the
temperament and feelings tied to objects are the false and
conditioned. After we are born, the false mixes in with the true; the
dragon becomes fierce, the tiger becomes wild, and they dwell
apart, not communicating. Unless we get rid of the false and rescue
the true, the great Tao is unattainable.
When the text says that “the dragon comes from the eastern sea,”
it means chasing the dragon to the tiger, using essence to seek sense.
When it says that “the tiger comes from the western mountain,” it
means leading the tiger and riding the dragon, using sense to return
to essence. When essence and sense meet, use sense to stabilise
essence, use essence to control sense; when essence and sense are
bound together, their fierceness and wildness become docility and
harmony: the false vanishes and the true returns. Essence loves
sense, obedient and dutiful; sense loves essence, kind and
benevolent. When metal and wood , sense and essence, join together,
this is the complete Original Face without defect. Therefore the text
says that “the two beasts have a battle and turn into the marrow of
heaven and earth .”
The word battle has a deep meaning. Once people’s primal yang
culminates and mixes with temporal conditioning, the senses and
their objects as they have been conditioned through history become
active, and feelings and emotions run amok; add to this the acquired
energies of habits accumulated in this life, and inside and outside
are all yin, which cannot easily be stripped away. Without intense
effort to strip away this conditioning acquired through cultural and
personal history, how can it be extinguished? Properly speaking,
battle means vigorous and intense refinement, which effort is not to
be relaxed until yin is exhausted and yang is pure. “Turning into the
marrow of heaven and earth ” means pure unity without duality
when essence and sense have been purged of all pollution; only then
is the work done. The subtle meaning of this stage is expressed in
our author’s Understanding Reality in these lines: “The white tiger
of the western mountains is very wild; the blue dragon of the eastern
sea cannot stand up to it. Grabbing them with both hands, make
them engage in mortal combat; they will change into a cluster of
Indeed, essence and sense are not easy to harmonise. It takes
years of intense effort before it is possible to return to reality.
GOLD FLOWERS BLOOM WITH MERCURY PETALS;
JADE STEMS GROW ON LEAD TWIGS.
WATER AND FIRE HAVE NEVER BEEN SEPARATE;
HOW LONG DO HEAVEN AND EARTH ENDURE?
The preceding section is on the joining of metal and wood, the union
of essence and sense; this section immediately follows upon that,
expressing the effect of the joining of metal and wood.
“Gold flowers” and “lead twigs” are associated with yang, which
is firm, and refer to true sense. “Mercury petals” and “jade stems”
are associated with yin, which is flexible, and refer to true essence.
The centre of fire = is open; openness is associated with yin, and
is conscious knowledge. The centre of water is full; fullness is
associated with yang, and is real knowledge. “Gold flowers bloom
with mercury petals” means there is flexibility within firmness,
sense being none other than essence; “jade stems grow on lead
twigs” means there is firmness within flexibility, essence being
none other than sense. “ Water and fire have never been separate”
means that fulfilment contains emptiness and emptiness contains
fulfilment; real knowledge is conscious knowledge, and conscious
knowledge is real knowledge.
Able to be firm, able to be flexible, able to be empty, able to be
full, firmness and flexibility corresponding, emptiness and
fulfilment including each other, tranquil and imperturbable yet
sensitive and effective, sensitive and effective yet tranquil and
imperturbable, going through the same processes as heaven and
earth, thus one shares the eternity of heaven and earth - when will
there ever be distraction?
BATHE AND WARD OFF DANGER,
EXTRACT AND ADD, TAKING CARE.
IN ALL, THERE ARE THIRTY THOUSAND INTERVALS;
BEWARE OF EVEN THE SLIGHTEST SLIP.
The preceding section speaks of the merging of essence and feeling,
the congealing of real knowledge and conscious knowledge,
whereupon the elixir forms. But though the medicinal substances
are easy to know, the firing process is most difficult. If you do not
know the details of operating the fire, and slip up even a little bit, it
will cause a tremendous miss and the gold elixir cannot be formed.
After the elixir has been restored, there is a time for bathing and a
process of extraction and addition. Before the medicines are
obtained, one must refine the self to gather medicine; after the elixir
is obtained, one must bathe to incubate it. Bathing means the work
of warding off danger.
An ancient immortal said, “The elixir is restored in a short time;
incubation requires ten months.” In ten months there are thirty
thousand intervals; during each interval one keeps attentive to ward
off danger, like a hen sitting on an egg, like an oyster embracing a
pearl, focusing single-mindedly on the sphere of attention. One also
works on extracting lead and adding mercury, carefully guarding
against any slip-up. If there is any slip-up, this produces falsehood
within reality; external influences sneak in, and the gold elixir, once
gained, is again lost, forms but then decays. Then the problem of
burning the crucible cannot be avoided.
Therefore in alchemy the work of warding off danger is
indispensable, start to finish. Warding off danger means preventing
external influences from creeping in and taking care that the basis of
the elixir is not damaged. When we speak of warding off danger, the
work of extraction and addition is therein. Extraction means taking
out the lead\ addition means putting in the mercury. Before the
elixir is crystallised, one must use true lead to control true mercury',
once the mercury is inert and the elixir has crystallised, it is
necessary to extract this lead energy again before the true mercury
can become a spiritual jewel. This is because although the true lead
of real knowledge is something primordial, being produced from
within the temporal, it carries acquired energy. First one uses real
knowledge to control and stabilise conscious knowledge, not letting
conscious knowledge fly off outside; once conscious knowledge is
stabilised, it is necessary to gradually remove the acquired pollutant
energy carried by this real knowledge, so that eventually none is left
at all. Only then is the elixir perfected. If any of that acquired
energy is not extracted, not removed, conscious knowledge cannot
become a round and bright jewel. When you take out one part of
pollutant energy in real knowledge, you add one part of pure energy
to conscious knowledge; when you take out one hundred percent of
the polluted energy in real knowledge, you add one hundred percent
pure energy to conscious knowledge. When polluted energy is
exhausted and pure energy is stable, the firing is done and energy is
sufficient; only then do you have the complete luminous jewel of
real consciousness, round and bright, and nothing else.
Our author’s Understanding Reality says, “When you use lead,
do not use ordinary lead ; and when you have finished using the true
lead, that too is thrown away. This is the real secret of using lead.
Using lead and not using it - these are veracious words.” This is the
meaning of extracting lead and adding mercury.
In essence, the work of extracting and adding is none other than
the function of warding off danger; extracting and adding are
precisely that whereby to ward off danger. Avoiding danger,
extracting and adding, being careful for the ten months, not
deviating from the correct process, how could the gold elixir not
As for the “thirty thousand intervals,” it is not that there really is
a period of ten months; it is just a metaphor for the process from the
restoration of the elixir to the perfection of the elixir, when the
spiritual embryo reaches complete maturity. Students should
investigate the reality and not destroy the meaning by taking the
WHEN HUSBAND AND WIFE MATE,
CLOUDS AND RAIN FORM IN THE SECRET ROOM.
IN A YEAR THEY GIVE BIRTH TO A CHILD,
AND EACH RIDES ON A CRANE.
The foregoing sections told of the medicines, the firing process and
the power of practise, in each case using similes from alchemy. The
author feared that students would not understand the profound
subtlety therein and would mistakenly enter the circuitous routes of
auxiliary methods, so he added this section, using the ordinary
relationship of man and woman, husband and wife, which is
obvious and easy to see, as a metaphor to instruct people.
In the path of cultivating reality, the thousand classics and ten
thousand texts just teach people to harmonise yin and yang, to cause
yin and yang to merge and return to one energy. Observe how in the
world husband and wife meet; when they mate, then they can
produce a child. In cultivation of the Tao, yin and yang meet, and
then when they mate, they can produce an immortal.
Our real knowledge is yang within yin; this is the “husband.” Our
conscious knowledge is yin within yang; this is the “wife.” After the
primal yang in people culminate, acquired conditioning takes over
affairs, and the real gets lost outside, as though it lived in another
house and did not belong to oneself. Though one may have
conscious knowledge, the wife does not see the husband; yin being
without the balance of yang, this consciousness has falsehood in it.
If the husband, real knowledge, is recognised and called back home
to meet the wife, conscious knowledge, and taken into the privacy
of the secret room, the husband loves the wife and the wife loves the
husband; husband and wife mate, sense and essence combine, so the
primal energy comes forth from within nothingness and congeals
into the spiritual embryo. Then, adding the work of ten months of
incubation, when the energy is replete and the spirit complete, it
emerges from the womb; there is a body outside the body,
transcending yin and yang, untrammelled by natural process.
Then one goes on to advanced practise, again setting up the
furnace and crucible, to carry on the subtle path of nondoing. The
child gives birth to grandchildren, and the grandchildren also branch
out, producing a thousand changes, ten thousand transformations.
Each soars into the skies riding a crane, becoming immortals of the
This path is entirely the Tao of yin and yang; giving birth to
people and giving birth to immortals is not apart from yin and yang;
the only difference is in whether the product is an immortal or an
ordinary person. As the immortal San-feng put it, going along with
the usual course of conditioning makes one an ordinary person, and
going against it makes one an immortal; it is all a matter of
reversing the process. The method of reversal cannot be known
without a teacher. One who knows can form the elixir in a short
time and need not spend three years nurturing it and nine years
maturing it. But it is necessary to recognise the true yin and the true
The foregoing explanation has been divided into sections, omitting
nothing of the meaning. Now, based on the lines of the original text,
also according to the same sectioning, I present verses for
explanatory notes, simply phrased but inclusive in meaning, cutting
through metaphors and images, to let students understand at a
glance and be further able to comprehend the true interpretation
without getting involved in speculation. Then most of the secret of
cultivating reality can be grasped.
True intent arouses real knowledge;
Conscious knowledge also spontaneously responds.
The three join as one,
And at once body and mind are settled.
The empty room produces light;
In quietude yang is restored:
Gather it and diligently refine it,
Transforming it into violet-gold frost.
In the spiritual opening the light of wisdom arises;
Essence appears, and feelings about objects vanish.
Clear and bright the jewel that grows in the dark;
Everywhere is bright and clean.
Volatility transmutes into true essence;
The human mind changes into the mind of Tao.
Without refinement by the spiritual fire,
How can gold be separated from the ore?
Real knowledge and conscious knowledge;
These two are originally the same energy.
Subjected to refinement by fire,
They merge without a trace of defect.
In the occult opening real consciousness appears;
Take the opportunity to get to work to nurture it.
When essence and sense cleave to one another,
They always produce the material for the elixir
There is an opening of open awareness
Which is called the opening of the mysterious female;
Therein are stored spirit and energy,
Originally the root of the celestial and earthly souls.
Conscious knowledge is the vitality within fire’,
Real knowledge is the jewel within water.
When negativity within water and fire vanishes,
The light is brilliant, truly sound.
The spiritual remedy is inherent in oneself;
What is the need to seek it outside?
Preserve the responsiveness of constant shining,
And everywhere you go becomes a forest of jewels.
Real knowledge is all real,
But it needs to be espoused by conscious knowledge.
Refining away he yin of acquired conditioning,
The two become one whole.
Conscious knowledge likes to wander outside
And needs to be governed by real knowledge;
When the “wife” follows the “husband,”
Water and fire balance each other.
Thunder , lake , water , and fire
Are symbols of vitality, spirit, sense, and essence;
If you know how to aggregate them,
You walk alone atop the mountains of the immortals.
The firing process is not related to hour or season;
Why bother to seek midnight and noon, winter and summer?
Bathing is washing the dusty wind;
How can spring and autumn govern it?
“Metal” sense and “wood” essence
Should not be unbalanced or disparate.
The two are as the same energy;
The spiritual root blooms of itself.
So great as to engulf space,
Yet small as a grain of rice;
If you ask about this root source,
It is the one reality alone.
The vitalities of heaven and earth, sun and moon,
Are fundamentally inherent in our bodies.
If reality and consciousness do not stray from each other,
Creation is always in the palm of your hand.
When essence arises, sense comes to stabilise it;
When sense arises, essence goes to lead it.
When their conflict and struggle are ended,
Then, as of yore, they are unconditioned.
Essence and sense merge;
Real and conscious knowledge join.
With fierce refinement and gentle cooking,
A crystal-clear temple is produced.
Controlling the mind is called bathing;
Incubation involves extraction and addition.
At every moment, forestall danger;
As accomplishment deepens, you naturally enter the mystery.
When you understand the principle of yin and yang,
The spiritual embryo is not hard to form;
Producing a child, also producing grandchildren,
Eternal life never ends.
Each section of this classic text on the essence of alchemy is
sound; each line points to reality. The furnace and crucible,
medicinal substances, firing process, order of practical cultivation,
doing and nondoing, from start to finish, are all included. Although
the text is brief, it contains the overall meaning of the whole text of
Now I have explained the symbols and metaphors in this text,
breaking open the core to see the nucleus, splitting the bones to
reveal the marrow, in order to shed some light for beginning
students to guide them into the right path. But I fear that students
may not know how actually to put it into practise and, not
consummating the task of a student, may develop false imaginations
about the great Tao and seek at random, deceiving themselves about
the path ahead. So here, after having made these explanatory notes
on the text, I also add Twenty-four Essentials for Students and
Twenty- four secrets of Alchemy. I phrase them very simply, so that
what they refer to may be easily recognised, thereby bringing to
light the secrets of which the ancient teachers did not speak.
If people of determination can use these essentials and secrets to
study and understand the text itself, proceeding in order, then those
who study the Tao will eventually understand the Tao, and those
who practise the Tao will eventually accomplish the Tao. It is to be
hoped that people will not waste the months and years rushing into
TWENTY-FOUR ESSENTIALS FOR STUDENTS
See through things of the world.
If you cannot see through the things of the world,
You will sink into an ocean of suffering. How can you get out?
Cut off entanglements.
If you cannot cut off entanglements,
The vicious cycles of compulsive habit stand before you.
Thoroughly investigate principle and meaning.
If you do not know how to discern the principles of body and
You cannot distinguish aberration and sanity, and miss the road.
Find a teacher and associates.
When you empty the mind, you can fill the belly;
If you are self-satisfied, you will grow old without development.
Make determination endure.
If you want to accomplish something that endures unchanging,
It requires work that endures unceasing.
Get rid of anger and hatred.
If you do not sweep yourself clean of anger and hatred,
You will be full of turbulence, which will obscure the truth.
Relinquish attachment to the physical body.
See the physical body as something temporary and artificial,
And naturally there will be a way to seek the real body.
Do not be afraid of hard work.
With strength of mind, one will be able to climb to the summit;
If you are afraid of hardship, you will never enter the real.
Tolerate ignominy and endure dishonour.
Tolerate ignominy, and though lowly you cannot be surpassed;
Endure dishonour, and through yielding you can be strong.
Forgive people and defer to others.
It is essential to humble oneself and honour others;
Equanimous deference is a good method.
Take possessions lightly; take life seriously.
Ask yourself - even if you pile up mountains of gold,
Can you buy off impermanence?
View others and self as the same.
Others and self have the same source, without high or low;
If you discriminate between “them” and “us,” you raise of dust.
Do not be deluded by alcohol or sex.
If you do not drink, your nature will not be deranged;
If you are chaste, your life force will be stable.
Accept hunger and cold as they come.
Dressing and eating according to circumstances, stop idle
If you are afraid of hunger and cold, your will won’t be firm.
Leave life and death to destiny.
Two things, death and life, depends entirely on nature;
The one will to seek the Way is always up to oneself.
Do whatever you can to be helpful.
Wherever you are, continue to perform worthy deeds;
Seeing danger, exert your utmost power to help people.
Do not take liking to excitement.
It is easy to lose the real in the midst of excitement and glamour;
In the realms of the senses you can derange your essential nature.
Do not be proud or complacent.
Arrogance arouses the hatred of others;
If you are self-satisfied, you cannot bear the Tao.
Do not crave fine food.
Superior people plan for the Way, not for food;
Inferior people nurture the palate, not the mind.
Do not talk about right or wrong.
Everyone should sweep the snow from his own door
And not be concerned about the frost on another’s roof.
Do not use intellectual brilliance.
If you have talent, do not employ it; always be as if inept;
If you have knowledge, hide it, appearing to be ignorant.
Sleep less and work more.
Working by day, cautious by night, effort never ceasing,
Giving up sleep, forgetting to eat, the will must be firm.
Do not take liking to fine things.
Pearls and jade, gold and silver, are things outside the body;
Vitality and spirit, essence and life, are the fundamental
Be consistent from beginning to end.
If you work without strength, it is hard to reach deep attainment;
Only when you die embracing the Tao do you see reality.
These twenty-four essentials are important passageways for
students which must be put into actual practise. When you have
passed through each one and applied them in your life, only then
can you meet a real teacher and hear about the great Tao. If there is
even one that you cannot practise and get through, even if you meet
a real teacher and hear about the Tao, it is not certain to benefit you.
The teacher’s function is to polish away errors, to clearly perceive
and subtly test the student and see whether the student is genuine or
false. A genuine, sincere person is like real gold, which has no fear
of fire, become brighter the more it is refined in the fire, being
appraised by an expert, certified and accepted.
Someone without will may start out diligently but eventually
slacks off; outwardly obedient yet inwardly refractory, such people
will greedily fantasise about the treasures of others without being
able to carry out their own tasks. This is what is called not getting
rid of temper, not changing the attitude, falling into the sea of
vicious cycles; even if you accumulate vast hordes of gold and jade,
the spirits and immortals will laugh coldly and will not respond.
Such people cannot even hear the Way, much less accomplish it.
Those who hear the Way are small sages; those who accomplish
the Way are great sages. The affair of great sages is certainly not
within the capabilities of empty obscurantists.
TWENTY-FOUR SECRETS OF ALCHEMY
Repair the alchemical workshop.
Nourish the temporal; strengthen the physical body.
To nourish the temporal is the point of departure;
When vitality, energy, and spirit are vigorous, one can bear
hunger and cold.
Having cultivated the physical body until it is firm and strong,
Giving shelter from rain and wind, it is good for refining the
Refine the self and set up the foundation.
Overcome anger and lust; conquer the self and return to
Refining the self and mastering the mind are building the
Mundane feelings and idle thoughts are all to be thrown away.
When you have refined your self to where it does not exist,
You are imperturbable and unshakable, and cannot be deluded
Set up the crucible and furnace.
Stabilise the will with firmness; do the work with flexibility.
Making the will firm and strong is setting up the crucible;
Gradually progressing in the work is setting up the furnace.
Firmness and flexibility are both used, without imbalance;
Having prepared, work the fire and the convergence according to
Cull the medicines.
Seek the real in the artificial; pick the gold out of sand.
The great medicines are three - vitality, energy, spirit;
It is necessary first to distinguish the true from the false.
The division between right and wrong is slight;
Be careful not to mix them up.
Use lead to control mercury.
When real knowledge is not obscured, conscious knowledge is
Another name for sense is true lead;
Essence, light and mercuric, is represented as mercury.
When you understand the method of bringing sense to stabilise
The human mentality does not arise and the mind of Tao is
The yellow woman harmonises.
When true intent does not scatter, yin and yang naturally
You should know that the true intent is the “yellow woman”;
Truthfulness alone can harmonise the four forms,
Aggregating the five elements uses its power;
Perfecting the being and building life are not apart from it.
Lead and mercury intermingle.
Essence goes to seek sense; sense comes back to essence.
Putting the lead in the mercury, sense returns to essence;
Putting the mercury in the lead, essence cleaves to sense.
When sense and essence merge without obstruction,
There is no worry that the great Way will not be accomplished.
Work the fire to smelt and refine.
Activate sane energy; sweep out aberrant energy.
Gentle cooking and fierce refinement are the methods of
Fire comes forth in the spiritual furnace, yin and yang,
Burning away the thousands kinds of pollutants.
Naturally the great medicines emanate misty light.
The restored elixir congeals.
Firmness and flexibility balance each other; essence and sense are
When essence and sense are unified, that is called the restored
Bright and clear, reality and consciousness join into one whole.
Having obtained the original priceless jewel,
Carefully guard it; practise observation of the spirit.
Bathe and incubate.
Do not let thoughts arise; do not let attention scatter.
Washing off defilement and dust is the method of bathing;
Do not be negligent, do not be forceful, join yin and yang.
When entanglements do not arise, the basis of the elixir is stable;
Nurturing the spiritual root, the flower buds are fragrant.
The basis of the elixir becomes mature.
Within black there is white; when quietude culminates, there is
Within black there is white - the herb of long life.
Within darkness is concealed light - the life-prolonging tonic.
Refining it into something crystal-clear and pure,
It penetrates heaven and earth with a ray of light.
Ingest the gold elixir.
Gather the spirit into the room, transmuting earthlines s.
The elixir ingested does not come from outside;
The refined real consciousness rests within.
The internal organs produce light; earthly energy is transmuted;
Without confusion and obscurity, obstacles are broken through.
Move the furnace and crucible.
The root source in hand, plant and nature according to the time.
The gold elixir in hand, there is true transmission;
Moving the furnace and crucible is a mystery within mystery.
Henceforth carefully cook the great medicine,
Refining the primordial within the primordial opening.
Congeal the spiritual embryo.
All the spirit gathered, the five elements merge.
The five energies return to the origin and gather on the spiritual
The primordial seed is already firmly planted.
As though an idiot, as though drunk, as though deep asleep,
In ecstasy and profound abstraction you congeal the spiritual
Difficulty in the morning, darkness at night.
Know the male, keep the female; refine with the natural fire.
Knowing the male, it is also necessary to keep the female.
Steaming with water and fire is not a matter of the hour.
There is naturally a pivot which turns over the trigram;
What is the need to make conscious effort?
Incubate the embryo.
Like a hen sitting on an egg, like an oyster embracing a pearl.
Concentrate single-mindedly, like a hen sitting on an egg;
Be thoroughly sincere, like an oyster embracing a pearl.
Hour after hour quietly watch over the aperture of open
To avoid letting water and fire be isolated in the furnace.
Externally oblivious of the body, internally oblivious of the mind.
Before celestial energy is thoroughly pure, there is still danger;
As long as earthly energy is not exhausted, it is necessary to
If the pollution of acquired conditioning is dissolved away,
It can be guaranteed that the embryo will not be damaged.
In ten months the embryo is mature.
Primordial energy is pure; conditioning is evaporated.
After ten months of work, the embryo is finally mature;
When conditioning is all dissolved, the primal is complete.
Utterly pure and clean, there is nothing else;
It is one naturalness, neither form nor void.
Wait for the time to break free.
No thought, no doing, not obsessed, not indifferent.
Basically there is a time to break free, transformed;
It will not do to be too early or too late.
Truthfulness within reaches outside, not admitting force;
When a melon is ripe, it naturally separates from the stem.
The infant emerges.
Breaking through nondifferentiation, leaping into nothingness.
Keep still in the yellow court and nurture the valley spirit;
With body complete and energy replete, the fire is stopped -
With a peal of thunder, the gate of heaven opens,
And out leaps the indestructible immortal person.
Breast-feed for three years.
Enlightened but not shining, illumined but not using it.
When real consciousness is refined into a golden body,
It never ever falls into the dust.
Nursing it for three years, enlightened but not shining,
Knowing before and understanding after, the sage is spiritual.
Exiting and entering at will.
Body and spirit both sublimated, merging into reality with
Body and spirit both sublimated, equal to space,
Merging in reality with the Tao, all things are penetrated.
Appearing, hiding, going against or along, no one can fathom it;
Clustered, there is form; dispersed, the wind.
Facing a wall for nine years.
Neither being nor nonbeing stand; the universe is ultimately
Nine years facing a wall, who is there that knows?
The work of entering the room does not depend on thought.
The universe returns to emptiness; ordinary and holy are gone;
In the realm of silent serenity, the abode of immortals is built.
The child also produces grandchildren.
Transformation without end, unfathomable spiritual wonders.
The child also produces grandchildren; ordinary and sage are the
The only distinction is in going along or coming back in reverse.
Ancient immortals left the secret of a great elixir,
With endless transformations, getting through everywhere.
These twenty-four secrets are steps of the process which must be
thoroughly understood, as the slightest deviation produces a great
miss. Since ancient times the immortals and real people usually
have not clearly indicated the order of the process; concealing the
mother and speaking of the children, they have just instructed
people by means of metaphors and symbols, fearing pilferage by
Since I have received spoken instruction from a teacher, at the
risk of making a mistake I wish to reveal this teaching publicly to
those who aspire to it. Even if one lacks the power to put it into
practise, simply getting to hear about the great Way is a measureless
But such a great task requires people of great strength to carry it
out; it also requires people to have great character in order to
perform it. If one has great strength but lacks great character, there
are likely to arise obstacles that will prevent accomplishment of the
Therefore, if one wants to traverse this path, one should first build
character. For mediocre and lesser people, character is more
important than the path, because if their virtue is not great, even if
they can hear about the Way they cannot necessarily attain it.
Students of the Tao should first recognises clearly what these topics
mean, know the beginning and the end, when to hurry and when to
relax; only then will they have certain insight and avoid wasting
• Black and white:
• Entering the room:
• Facing a wall:
• Female and male
• Gate of heaven:
Primordial and temporal; non-
differentiation and differentiation;
transcendence and immanence;
detachment and involvement. See
also Female and male.
Receptivity and creativity;
tranquillity and action.
In psychophysical Taoist yoga, the
centre of the top of the head, the
“opening” from which the spirit is
projected; metaphysically, the apex
of consciousness, through which
one passes into enlightenment.
Permeation of the being with the
combination of “water” and “fire”
(See the introduction and text for the
significations of water and fire and
• Turning over the trigrams: In the unregenerate human beings,
the order of the water and fire
trigram is thus:
Fire Conscious knowledge:
tends to “fly up,”
from true reality.
Water =-= Real knowledge:
tends to “flow off,”
For enlightenment, these are
“turned over” or “inverted”:
=-= Real knowledge controls
Conscious knowledge rises
to real knowledge.
• Valley spirit: Open awareness.
• Yellow court: In psychophysical Taoist yoga, the
centre of the torso; metaphysically,
the “centre” in the sense of intent
(as the force that unifies the being),
truthfulness, balance, faith.
Solving Symbolic Language
ON SYMBOLIC LANGUAGE
The ancient classics on the science of cultivating reality often speak
of the path of nondoing, but seldom speak of the path of doing.
However, on the path of nondoing, only those of superior
knowledge become suddenly enlightened and attain complete
comprehension, understanding everything in one realisation,
immediately ascending into the realm of sages. Mediocre and lesser
people, those who are dull, deeply conditioned, and lacking
perceptivity, will find that their power is insufficient to practise the
path of nondoing; they will not be able to transcend all objects and
reach the goal directly.
During the latter Han dynasty (second century C.E.) Wei Po-yang,
a Taoist adept, composed the Triplex Unity ( Ts’an t’ung ch’i ) to
guide those of middling and lesser faculties. He used images to
present the imageless, used forms to allude to the formless. This was
the beginning of the term gold elixir and the technical symbolism of
lead and mercury, sand and silver, raven and rabbit, dragon and
tiger, the baby, the girl, medicinal substances, the furnace and
cauldron, cooking and refining, and so on.
Later on, many real people who had attained the Tao composed
alchemical treaties, all based on the Triplex Unity, to expound the
subtle principles. Their intention was for students in later times to
use the former to study the latter, and use the latter to understand the
Nevertheless, later students did not look into the meanings of the
code words and did not figure out the principles of the symbols.
Seeing talk of gold elixir, lead, mercury, cauldron, and furnace, they
thought it referred to the preparation of potions to ingest, and they
took to chemistry. Seeing talk to raven and rabbit, dragon and tiger,
they thought it referred to the internal organs, and they took to
visualisation exercises. Seeing talk of other and self, yin and yang,
male and female, they thought it referred to forced effort, and they
took to energy circulation practises. Seeing talk of nondoing to
cultivate essence, they took it to mean utter quiescence, and they got
involved in quietism. Seeing talk of doing to cultivate life, they
thought it meant exercise, and came to cling to form. These and
other schools arose, all taking a deer to be a horse, taking a crow for
a phoenix, not only without benefit to essence and life, but even to
the detriment of essence and life. Could this have been the intention
of the ancient teachers in using symbolic language?
Symbols are representations, speaking of one thing to allude to
something else. To take an example from the field of common
knowledge and experience, consider the cooking and brewing of
food and drink. The pot is the “cauldron”; the stove is the “furnace.”
Water is put in the pot; fire is kindled in the stove. The basic
tendency of fire is to flame upward, that of water to flow
downward; when we put the water in the pot above and the fire in
the stove below, water and fire are thus “reversed” - they
complement one another, so that the food and drink are cooked and
brewed. This represents ordinary water and ordinary fire
complementing each other.
The strength in people is impetuous and volatile, so it is
associated with fire; flexibility is relaxed and calm, so it is
associated with water. Using flexibility to nurture strength, using
strength to complete flexibility, strength and flexibility match each
other, so that there is neither haste nor dawdling, effecting a return
to equipoise, with the result that the Tao is easy to accomplish. This
is the principle of the mutual complementarity of psychological
water and psychological fire. Using the image of complementarity
of ordinary water and fire to represent the principle of
complementarity of psychological water and fire, that principle is
Let us consider another example. Suppose a man is originally
prosperous, but becomes profligate and squanders his fortune; then,
on the verge of destitution, he repents of his errors, struggles and
labours for a living again, gradually accumulates substance, and
eventually re-establishes fortune. This symbolises return to the
origin. The vitality, spirit, and sacred energy in the human body are
originally complete and full; mixing with temporal conditioning,
going along with the process of creation, expends vitality and
belabours the spirit, so that the basic energy declines and the source
wanes. If, on the verge of exhaustion, one can turn back, quell anger
and cupidity, get rid of falsehood and preserve truth, by gradual
application of effort one can eventually return to the root and restore
life. This is the principle of return to the origin. Using the image of
restoration and recovery of a man in the world to represent the
principle of return to the origin by practise of Tao, that principle is
To take another example, when a man and a woman mate, they
are able to produce children, who produce grandchildren; this
represents the continuing birth of the human Tao. When the yin and
yang in the human being match and unite, they can produce
enlightened adepts; this is the principle of continuing birth in the
alchemical Tao. Using the image of continuing birth of the human
Tao to represent the principle of continuing birth in the alchemical
Tao, that principle is clear.
The alchemical classics all use metaphors to illustrate principles;
they are telling people to discern from the image the principle to be
practised, not to turn away from the principle and act on the image.
It is a pity that people do not investigate the principles, only
recognising the images. There are very many symbolic expressions
used in alchemical classics; students should proceed from the
symbol to discover the principle. When you get the image, forget
the words; when you get the intent, forget the image. Then you will
ON GOING ALONG AND REVERSAL
Everyone in the world knows the path of “going along,” but not the
path of “reverse operation.” What is going along? It means going
along with natural process. What is reversal? It means reversal of
natural process. Going along with natural process gives birth to
humans and other beings, the cycle of birth, aging, sickness, and
death never ceasing. Reversing the natural process produces
enlightened adepts who are neither born nor perish, having a life
span equal to that of the universe.
Ordinarily, after people are born, as they grow up they become
imbued with temporal conditioning; inwardly, emotions and desires
distract them from reality, while outwardly objects and events tax
their bodies. They take the false to be real, take the aberrant to be
correct, take misery for pleasure; following their desires to any
lengths, they deplete their original vitality, energy, and spirit almost
to the point of exhaustion, and thoroughly obscure their inherent
round and bright true essence, unwilling to stop until they die.
Therefore they undergo birth after birth, death after death, sunk for
myriad aeons; this is what is called throwing oneself to one’s death
even without having been called by the king of death.
People of great wisdom reverse the operation of the natural
process; they are not bound by the natural process, not moulded by
yin and yang, not compelled by myriad things, not changed by
myriad conditions. Planting lotuses in a fire, hauling a boat through
mud and water, they make temporary use of things of the world to
practise the principles of the Tao, by the human Tao completing the
celestial Tao. They uproot the mundane senses conditioned by
history and sweep away all acquired influences. They rule their own
destinies and are not ruled by fate. Restoring the whole, original
being, they avoid compulsive routine, transcend all worlds, and
But this celestial mechanism of practising reversal in the midst of
accord has a secret which is communicated verbally and transmitted
mentally; one must seek the guidance of a true teacher, for it cannot
be known through arbitrary guesswork. Students all over the world
use their own meagre light and narrow views, memorise a few
sayings, ponder a few mystical stories, and think they know the Tao;
seeking no further for guidance, they become charlatans, self-
appointed preachers who are blind themselves and take in others
who are blind. It is wrong to do this.
There are also mixed-up people who cannot recognise true
teachers and go from one imbecile to another learning a few minor
techniques and imagine they have the Tao; then, when enlightened
people appear before them, they are unwilling to humble themselves
to learn. They perform various practises at random: some consider
descent of energy in the heart and ascent of the energy in the
genitals to be the practise of reversal; some consider the circulation
of energy up the spine and down the front of the body to be the
practise of reversal; some consider sending the vitality up to boost
the brain to be the practise of reversal; some consider holding the
breath and steadying the spirit to be the practise of reversal; some
consider taking sexual energy from women to vitalise men to be the
practise of reversal; some consider having the man below and the
woman above to be the practise of reversal. There are thousands of
such methods; they are all contrary to the path of sages and are not
reverse operation of the natural process. They are all ways to death,
not to life.
What such people do not realise is that reversal means going back
to the origin of life. It is like someone who has left home and gone
far away turning around and returning home. Although it is called
reverse action, in fact it is action in accord with principle, so it is
great accord within reversal. It is called reversal because it goes
contrary to the course of action of ordinary people. Those who have
taken to auxiliary methods, with all their intricacies, have been
confused by the word reversal and have come to do all sorts of
practises in the physical sphere. In the end they will fall into
emptiness. Is this not foolish?
ON THE MEDICINES
When the alchemical classics and writings of the masters speak of
gathering medicines and refining gold elixir, they are referring to
primordial, formless, immaterial realities, not a mundane, physical,
material medicines and not to substances in the human body.
After people are born, they accept the false and lose the real,
expending their naturally complete treasure to the point of
exhaustion, so that the body becomes pure mundanity, full of
aberrant energies, as if afflicted with a serious illness, death being
just a matter of time. Because of this, if not for genuine effective
“medicine,” they have no way to restore the mundane to the celestial
and preserve essence and life.
What is genuine effective medicine? It is primordial, true, unified
energy; it is primordial vitality, energy, and spirit, the “three
treasures.” The primordial, true, unified energy is also called true
seed. It does not descend into material form; it is ultimate nonbeing
yet contains ultimate being, is ultimate emptiness yet contains
ultimate fulfilment. Truly empty yet subtly existing, it governs the
three treasures of vitality, energy, and spirit.
The three treasures are also not physical things but formless
realities. As an ancient adept said, the vitality is not sexual vitality,
the energy is not metabolic energy, the spirit is not the thinking
mind. Though they are three, the treasures all return to one
primordial energy; the three combine into one energy, the one
energy differentiates into three.
Gathering medicines means gathering these three treasures of one
energy; operating the fire of reality to refine them, one produces
elixir which transmutes all mundane energies in a person, returning
to unadulterated celestial energy, the pure, undefiled original being.
It is like a person with an illness using medicine to cure it and
Medicine here is a metaphor, but students in later generations
took the alchemical classics literally and thought the medicines were
material substances; they gathered herbs in the mountains and
compounded them into potions, vainly hoping for long life. Some
gathered minerals and cooked them into elixirs, which they
ingested, imagining they would thereby become able to fly aloft.
What they did not realise was that material medicines can only cure
physical ailments and cannot cure immaterial ailments. Immaterial
sickness can only be cured by gathering the primordial, true, unified
The Triplex Unity says, “It is easy to work with what is of the
same species, hard to work with what is not of the same kind.”
Understanding Reality says, “When bamboo breaks, you need
bamboo to mend it; if you want to hatch chickens, you need eggs.
Whatever is not of the same kind is a waste of effort; how can that
compare to true lead combining with the potential for sagehood?”
The true lead is precisely this primordial, true, unified energy; all
those who take ordinary drugs to be herbs of immortality should
wake up when they read this.
ON THE FIRING PROCESS
The “firing process” spoken of in the alchemical classics and
writings of the masters is a metaphor for the order of practical
spiritual work. Generally speaking, in spiritual work there is that
which comes first and that which comes later; there are times for
relaxation and hurry, advance and withdrawal. It will not do to put
off for later what must be done first, or to do first what must be
done later; it will not do to relax when one should hurry, or to hurry
when one should relax. It will not do to withdraw when one should
advance, or to advance when one should withdraw. It is as when one
cooks medicines over a fire, there are times for gentle firing, intense
firing, and stopping at sufficiency. So the order of application of
effort in cultivation of reality is represented as a “firing process.”
However, the firing process of spiritual work is not a matter of
years, months, days, or hours; it applies to every moment - doing
first what should be done first, doing later what should be done
later, hurrying when one should hurry, relaxing when one should
relax, advancing when one should advance, withdrawing when one
should withdraw, shifting effectively at the appropriate times.
What should be done first is to establish inward discipline; what
should be done after that is to deflect externals. When one should
hurry is when applying effort; when one should relax is when gently
nurturing. When one should advance is when celestial energy is
insufficient and should be advanced; when one should withdraw is
when mundane energy arises and should be withdrawn.
This is the true principle of the firing process. It is not the yogins’
theory of advancing the yang fire at midnight, withdrawing the yin
convergence at noon, and bathing at six A.M. and six P.M. It is also
not the theory of advancing the yang fire at the winter solstice,
withdrawing the yin convergence at the summer solstice, and
bathing at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes.
The natural world has its own times, and humans have their own
times; the times of the natural world cannot be precisely identified
with human times. Winter, summer, spring, fall, midnight, noon, six
in the morning, and six in the evening - in the human being, these
times are present at every juncture. An ancient classic says, “No
need to look for midnight and noon in the sky; there is arising of
yang within the body.” The arising of yang is midnight/winter
solstice; the arising of yin is noon/summer solstice. Yang joining
yin is six A.M./vemal equinox; yin joining yang is six P.M./autumnal
equinox. These are the living times and seasons, not the lifeless
times and seasons of the calendar.
The firing process as explained in the sixty-four hexagrams of the
I ching also indicates the principles of advancement and withdrawal
of yin and yang, teaching people to make adjustments according to
the situation, adapting effectively in application of effort; it does not
teach people to practise according to the sequence of the sixty-four
hexagrams. Understanding Reality says, “Setting up symbols in the
hexagrams is based on descriptions of the modes; understanding the
symbol, forget the words - the idea is clear of itself. The whole
world is astray, only clinging to symbols, acting out the energies of
the hexagrams in hopes of flying aloft.”
When reading such books, you should understand the ancients’
intent in choosing symbols and making verbal formulations; once
the meaning is realised, the symbol can be forgotten. The thousands
of books on the path of cultivating reality are all in symbolic
language; though the images they choose are not the same, they are
all used to clarify yin and yang, going along and reversing, the
medicines, real and false, and the order of the firing process. They
do not talk about anything other than this.
Since I have truly understood the meanings in the symbols
through the guidance of teachers, I dare not keep this knowledge to
myself and want to make it public, for those of discernment.
Therefore I have taken essential points from the alchemical classics
and produced diagrams to communicate their reality, analysing and
clarifying right and wrong to resolve students’ doubts. The rest may
be deduced by analogy.
I. The State in the Womb
THE ULTIMATE OF NONBEING
THE ORIGIN OF THE BODY
Before one’s parents give birth to one’s body, when the yin and
yang energies of male and female interact, in the midst of darkness
there is a point of living potential, which comes forth from nothing.
This is what is called the primordial, true, unified generative energy.
This energy enters into the sperm and ovum, fusing them into one:
formless, it produces form; immaterial, it produces substance. The
internal organs, the organs of sense, and the various parts of the
body evolve, all becoming complete naturally. Even the mother who
carries the unborn child does not know how this happens as it does.
Inexperienced students, unaware of this principle, imagine that
when people are in the womb their umbilical cord conveys the
mother’s breath, so that the foetus exhales when the mother exhales
and inhales when the mother inhales, gradually evolving and
forming. This is not so. Respiration is acquired energy; how can
acquired energy cause the sperm and ovum to evolve into a body?
And how could breath enter into the womb? What they do not
realise is that in the mother’s womb there is only the primal point of
generative energy, undifferentiated, which first causes the embryo to
congeal, then nurtures the embryo, and eventually causes it to
become complete. The whole process is accomplished by this
generative energy, with nothing else mixed in.
At this point, though there is the human form, there is no human
way; nothing in the world, not even water, fire, or weapons, can
harm one here. Emotions and desire cannot reach one here.
Ultimately, in reality there is just openness alone. When the ancient
immortals taught people to practise the Tao to return to what they
were like before their parents gave birth to them, they meant
returning to the state of openness, beyond sense. Where there is no
sense is the ultimate of nonbeing. The ultimate of nonbeing is the
extreme of nothingness, where there is only nonbeing.
2 . The State of the Infant
THE CULTIVATION OF BEGINNING
After ten months in the womb, the foetus is fully developed; like
a ripe melon falling off the stem, the foetus breaks out of the
amnion and emerges, feet toward the sky and head toward the earth.
With a cry the infant first comes in contact with the air, breathing it
in so that it mixes with the primordial original energy within. The
primordial is the body; the temporal is the function. The temporal
depends on the primordial to breathe in and out, while the
primordial depends on the temporal to nurture the vascular system.
Furthermore, at the moment of that cry, the conscious spirit of the
generations of history also enters into the opening and merges with
the primordial original spirit. The original spirit depends on the
conscious spirit to subsist, while the conscious spirit depends on the
original spirit for effective awareness.
Nevertheless, though the newborn infant has acquired energy and
acquired spirit, still the primordial governs the temporal and the
temporal obeys the primordial. The primordial and the temporal
merge into nondifferentiation; without discrimination or cognition,
there is one reality alone.
When the ancient immortals taught people to find out the point of
birth, they meant to find out the beginning of birth, which is to find
out the appearance of the infant. Deluded people, not knowing this,
have erroneously said that “the point of birth” means the woman’s
birth canal. This is wrong. The beginning of birth, the appearance of
the infant, means pure clarity, without blemish; this is the germ and
embryo of sages, the root and sprout of immortals and buddhas.
Here one is ungraspable and invulnerable, because one is mindless.
Being mindless, one is not hindered by birth and death; there are
no calamities, no troubles. This is the image of the culmination of
beginning. The culmination of beginning is the final limit of
beginning, before getting mixed up in temporal conditioning.
Though merged with the temporal, it is the primordial alone which
controls things. This is because it is at the culmination of beginning;
it is beginning as it springs from nonbeing.
3 . The State of the Child
CULMINATION OF THE GREAT
UNITY OF PRIMORDLAL AND TEMPORAL
After a person has grown from infancy to the point where he can
walk, speak, and follow others’ directions, he is called a child. The
infant has no discrimination or cognition, but the child already has
discrimination and cognition, so it is as if floating clouds are dotting
the sky. Having discrimination and cognition derives from the
culmination of beginning eventually reaching the culmination of the
great. The culmination of the great means the limit of the universal,
which must be followed by the arising of the particular; when yang
culminates, it must shift to yin. At this moment, however, the
particular has not yet come, yin has not yet arisen; it is still the
primordial that does things, while the acquired is latent. Though
there is discrimination and cognition, the encrustation of the
faculties has not yet taken place and acquired influences have not
yet invade; when hungry, one just eats, and when cold, one just puts
on clothes. Joy, anger, sadness, and happiness come and go,
vanishing as they arise; one does not know about differences of
wealth and status, but is spontaneous and has no extraneous
This, too, is the germ and embryo of sages, the root and sprout of
immortals and buddhas. The ignorant consider the child to be the
infant, but this is wrong. They both are imbued with natural reality,
but they are different in terms of state, the infant being higher and
the child lower, and they are also different in terms of intellectual
knowledge, which the infant does not have but the child does.
Therefore, to represent return to the origin, the ancient immortals
chose the fundamental aspect of the infant and not the naive aspect
of the child.
4 . Yin and Yang Divide
THE TWO EIGHTS
THE APERTURE OF AWARENES S OPENS
GOOD AND BAD DIVIDE
After people grow from childhood to the point where the energies
of the two eights are complete, yang culminates and yin arises,
opening an aperture; yin and yang divide, each dwelling on one
side. Then there is artificiality within the real; here intellectual
knowledge gradually develops, and good and bad are discriminated.
This is the division of the culmination of the universal,
dichotomising yin and yang.
The completion of the energies of the two eights is like the upper
and lower crescents of the moon joining into one shining orb, which
symbolises the culmination of primordial yang, like the culmination
of the great, the culmination of the universal. When yang
culminates, it must turn to yin, as when the universal culminates,
unity divides into yin and yang, which separates as two.
The ignorant take such talk of two eights and production of yin to
mean a boy’s emission of yin vitality (semen) at the age of sixteen.
This is wrong. Considering how some boys emit semen at fourteen
or fifteen, some at sixteen or seventeen, and some at eighteen or
nineteen, since there is no set age for this, we know that the two
eights refer not to people’s age but to the fullness of energy.
5 . The Five Elements Separate
OF THE SENSES
Once yin and yang divide, the five elements also become
aberrated. The five elements - metal , wood, water, fire, and earth -
represent sense, essence, vitality, spirit, and energy. In the primal
state, these elements foster one another in harmonious union and are
manifested in action as the five virtues of benevolence, justice,
courtesy, wisdom, and truthfulness.
In the conditioned state, the five elements are imbalanced and
damage each other; this manifests in action as the five rebels of joy,
anger, sadness, happiness, and desire.
When the five elements are united, the five virtues are present and
yin and yang are one. When the five elements are fragmented, the
five rebels rise up and yin and yang are confused.
Once the five elements separate, discriminatory awareness
gradually arises, and the encrustation of the senses gradually takes
place; the real retreats and the artificial assumes authority. Now
even the state of the child is lost.
The ignorant assign the five elements variously to five internal
organs, but this is wrong. The five internal organs, having form and
substance, are inns for the conditioned five elements, not the
gardens of virtues of the primal five elements. If you identify the
five organs with the five elements, how can the five organs divide
The five elements differ in being either primal or conditioned; the
primal originate before birth, the conditioned emerge after birth.
The primal produce sages, the conditioned produce ordinary people.
Though the five elements are divided into primal and conditioned,
they are all alive and do not have fixed positions.
6 . Acquired Conditioning Runs Affairs
THE ENERGY OF
YIN IS PRODUCED WITHIN YANG
Yin and yang divided, the five elements separated, once
conditioning mixes in, the primordial retreats; at this point the
acquired temperament emerges, and external impacts come and
condition the senses, which then beckon emotions and desires.
Pristine purity is gradually invaded by mundane energy. Once
mundane energy enters, it gradually grows, and celestial energy
gradually wanes away. Indulgently pursuing desires, one eventually
becomes totally subservient to them.
The ignorant think that the temperament is the real nature, but
this is not so. The real nature is the nature as divinely decreed and
belongs to the primordial; this is beneficial to people. The
temperament is the nature created by people and emerges from
acquired conditioning; this is harmful to people. How can acquired
nature be identified with primal nature?
7 . Pure Mundanity, Nothing Celestial
IS NOT TOTAL
WHEN THE OIL IS USED UP,
THE LAMP GOES OUT
WHEN THE MARROW IS EXHAUSTED,
THE PERSON DIES
As acquired conditioning runs affairs, mundanity increases and
the celestial retreats, day after day, year after year. Inwardly, myriad
thoughts cause trouble; outwardly, myriad things coerce. Under
inward and outward attack, the celestial energy wanes away and the
whole being becomes totally mundane; as the three treasures are
depleted, the life forces cannot be sustained, and death is inevitable.
Ignorant people think that when they end their days and die is a
matter of fate, but this is not so. What human life depends on is
positive energy; as long as any positive energy at all remains, one
does not die. And as long as negative energy is incomplete, one
does not die. If one goes along and lets the negative mundane
energy extinguish the positive celestial energy, this is looking for
the way of death on one’s own - what has it got to do with fate?
The foregoing seven diagrams represent the process of producing
humans, going along with the usual natural process: the next seven
represent the process of producing immortals, reversing the usual
I. Refining the Self, Setting Up the Foundation
CONQUERING THE SELF
RETURNING TO ORDER
PURGING DEFILEMENT, ELIMINATING FALSEHOOD
The path of cultivating reality is the path of restoration and
return. Restoration means causing the self which has gone to come
back; return means regaining the celestial positivity which has been
lost. This means restoration and return of the original, real celestial
positivity in the midst of total mundanity.
Once people’s conditioning runs affairs, they become totally
mundane, so the primordial celestial energy wanes away to the
verge of exhaustion. Without the work of restoration, how can that
which is lacking be recovered, how can that which is lost be
The work of restoration begins with refining the self and setting
up the foundation. Refining self means burning away temporal
accretions encrusting the senses, temperamental biases, and all
acquired energies with which one has become imbued by
habituation. This means quelling anger and cupidity, conquering the
self, and returning to order.
If one can quell anger and cupidity, conquer oneself, return to
order, one will be free from wishful thinking and rumination, and
will be imperturbable and unwavering. This fundamental stability is
like the necessity of building a foundation first when you build a
house; when the foundation is strong and stable, it will be able to
sustain the weight of the house as it is built. So self-refinement is in
setting up the foundation; setting up the foundation is not other than
The ignorant think that refining the self means guarding the heart
and that setting up the foundation means stopping the flow of
semen. This is wrong. The work of self-refinement is only finished
when mundanity is ended and the celestial is pure; until this is
accomplished, the work cannot be stopped. If one thinks that
guarding the heart and stopping the flow of semen are refining the
self and setting up the foundation, how will one be able to complete
the great work of the gold elixir?
An ancient immortal said, “Restoring the elixir takes place at
once; refining the self requires ten months.” So we know it is not a
matter of guarding the heart and stopping the semen.
2 . The Natural, Innocent True Mind
BUILDING THE FOUNDATION
ONE MUST EMPLOY
THERE IS WHITE WITHIN BLACK
BACK WITHIN FEMALE
Refining the self and setting up the foundation are not a matter of
forced control, forced effort, or austere practises. What the work
requires is first to recognise the natural, innocent true mind, and
then to use this true mind to refine the self. Then a point of celestial
energy emerges within the darkness; this is called true
consciousness. When the true consciousness appears, right and
wrong, false and true, are distinctly clear; one will not be compelled
by desire for things and will not be influenced by sense objects, so
self-refinement is very easy.
If one cannot find the true mind, then false and true will not be
distinguished, right and wrong will not be clear; so even if one uses
the mind to control the mind, after all it is the human mind at work,
with repression and force. This is what is meant by the saying. “If
you try to get of errant thoughts, that will increase the ailment; to try
to head for reality is also amiss.” How can one reach the selfless
state in this way?
The ignorant mistake the human mentality for the true mind. This
is wrong. The true mind is mindless; only the mindless mind is the
naturally innocent mind. With this natural innocent mind, one will
have no trouble mastering oneself. The Hundred Character
Inscription says, “Knowing the original progenitor in action and
repose, having no concern, who else do you seek?” San-feng said,
“When building the foundation, you should use the bellows; when
refining the self, you need the true lead.” The original progenitor,
the bellows, and the true lead, are all different names for the natural,
innocent true mind.
Ah, but is the natural, innocent true mind easy to know? If you
know it, then by attaining this one thing, myriad tasks are done.
3 . The Celestial Grows, the Mundane Wanes
DAY BY DAY
DAY BY DAY
ACTIVATING THE MIND OF TAO
DISSOLVING THE HUMAN MIND
Having found the natural, innocent true mind, the autonomous
host sits peacefully in the centre. Effort for the Tao decreases daily,
while accomplishment increases daily. The celestial energy
gradually grows; the force of mundanity gradually wanes. Growing
and growing, waning and waning, until there can be no more growth
or waning, this is the ultimate accomplishment.
The ignorant think that by sitting quietly, inactive, tranquil,
indifferent, empty, the celestial energy will increase of itself and the
force of mundanity will decrease of itself. This is wrong. The
restored elixir is the restoration of the celestial within the mundane.
If you want to restore the celestial by quiet sitting without action
and tranquil indifference, how can the celestial return by itself, how
can the mundane withdraw by itself?
Understanding Reality says, “Even if you know the cinnabar and
lead, if you do not know the firing process, it is useless. It all
depends on the power of practise; the slightest deviation, and you
will fail to crystallise the elixir.” By this we can know the way to
foster the celestial and withdraw the mundane.
4 . Assembling the Five Elements
THE FIVE ELEMENTS
ARE ONE ENERGY
THE FOUR SIGNS
THE FIVE VIRTUES ARE ALL PRESENT
THE THREE TREASURES RETURN TO ONE
For the celestial to grow and the mundane to wane requires
knowledge of assembling the five elements; when the five elements
are assembled, the great Tao may be aspired to. The work of
assembling is a matter of extracting the primordial five elements
from the midst of the conditioned five elements. The conditioned
five elements overcome one another, while the primordial five
elements foster one another. When the five elements foster one
another, they are integrated with the celestial design; this is the five
elements as one energy, the combining of the four signs.
Ignorant people think that assembling the five elements means
mentally drawing the energies of the heart and genitals up and down
to mix with each other, and conveying the energies of the liver and
lungs left and right to join each other. This is wrong. The energies
of the internal organs are physical, and whatever is physical is
acquired; it becomes, and so also decays. How can this crystallise
the permanent, indestructible jewel of life?
5 . Yin and Yang Merge
THE EDGE OF THE UNIVERSAL
THERE IS YIN
THERE IS YANG
THE STATE OF THE CHILD
The five elements particularise from within yin and yang. When
the five elements are assembled and united, this means yin and yang
merge into one. When yin and yang merge, the gold elixir forms;
this is the state of the child.
Nevertheless, the energy of acquired conditioning has still not
disappeared. Yet even though the energy of acquired conditioning
has not yet disappeared, since the primordial has been restored,
conditioning submits to it and cannot cause harm. By doing yet
another level of work from this point on, the gold elixir can be
The ignorant think that the merging of yin and yang means that
mixing of the heart and genitals energies, or the meeting of the
active and passive energy channels, or the intercourse of man and
woman. This is wrong. The gold elixir is made by the crystallisation
of the energy of primordial nothingness; it cannot be formed by
temporal, physical substances.
6 . Unified Energy
THE EDGE OF THE BEGINNING
THINGS AND SELF
ARE BOTH EMPTY
THE STATE OF THE INFANT
When yin and yang return to integral completeness, the state of
the child is already restored; from this point on the natural fire of
reality operates to burn away residual conditioning and return to the
state where there is no discriminatory knowledge, where the spirit is
secreted and the energy clusters. This is what is referred to as a man
being pregnant, the “foetus” being the state of the infant. This is the
point where the living body becomes imbued with energy; this is the
edge of the beginning, and it is also called the universal One
containing true energy.
Ignorant people think that formation of the spiritual embryo is
done by ingesting mineral or vegetable substances. This is wrong.
What is formed by ingesting mineral or vegetable substances is no
more than clumps of blood and flesh. This only promotes death, and
there is no hope of anything else.
7. Absolutely Open Nothingness
DO NOT STAND
HEAVEN AND EARTH
RETURN TO THE VOID
When the spiritual embryo has formed, then one applies ten
months of incubation, the work of gently nurturing it, operating the
natural fire of reality to forge and refine it from vagueness to clarity,
from weakness to strength. When the cluster of mundanity has been
stripped away, the embryo is fully developed, the elixir is done; like
a ripe melon dropping off the vine, one suddenly breaks through the
undifferentiated, bursts out with the pure spiritual body, leaps into
the realm of absolutely open nothingness, and transcends world.
This is the state before birth, and is also the state of the endless.
When the path leads back to the endless, body and mind are both
sublimated and one merges in reality with the Tao. This is as much
as a person can do.
The ignorant project the spirit by staring in mirrors, by silently
concentrating on the top of the head, or by facing a wall and
forgetting the body. This is wrong. The spirit liberated by the gold
elixir is the celestial spirit, while the spirit projected by all the
quietistic practises is the mundane spirit. The celestial spirit is
eternal, unborn and unperishing; the mundane spirit, not having
undergone refinement, is subject to reincarnation. Unless one attains
the science of the gold elixir to transform it, even if one can project
and recall the mundane spirit at will and can know the past and
future, one cannot escape transmigration. This is referred to by the
saying, “Even if you last thousands of aeons, in the end you will fall
into utter destruction.”
These last seven diagrams represent the process of producing
immortals, reversing the usual natural process. The foregoing
fourteen diagrams give a general idea of going along with creation
and reversal of creation. Following this I will bring up essential
symbolic terms, distinguish correct and erroneous interpretations,
and give the true meanings, so that students may understand
The Gold Elixir
UNFIXED TO FORM OR VOID
INCLUDING TRUTHFULNESS AND ILLUMINATION
Gold is something stable and incorruptible; an elixir pill is
something round, complete, luminous, pure, without defect. Ancient
immortals used the term gold elixir as a metaphor of the essence of
true consciousness, which is fundamentally complete and illumined.
In Confucianism, this essence is called the universal ultimate; in
Buddhism, it is called complete awareness; in Taoism, it is called
the gold elixir. Though there are three names, the reality is one.
Confucians who cultivate this become sages; Buddhists who
cultivate this become buddhas; Taoists who cultivate this become
immortals. The adepts of all three teachings consider the
fundamental true essence to be the basis of attainment of the Way.
The ignorant who do not know this consider the gold elixir to be a
potion made from minerals. This is wrong. The true essence is
matured through firing in the furnace of Creation, and lasts as long
as heaven and earth , having the same light as sun and moon; how
can it be made by mundane material substances?
The Heart of Heaven and Earth
BLACK AND WHITE JOIN
YIN AND YANG MERGE
TRANQUIL, UNPERTURBED EARTH SENSITIVE, EFFECTIVE
The first essential step in cultivating reality is to find the heart of
heaven and earth. The heart of heaven and earth , the universal
mind, is what has been previously referred to as the natural,
innocent true mind. This mind is subtle and recondite, and is not
easily manifested; it only shows a glimpse when “light appears in
the empty room” and “within darkness, suddenly there is
Heaven is associated with yang, earth is associated with yin; the
heart of heaven and earth is the mind in which yin is not separate
from yang, yang is not separate from yin, yin and yang are merged.
When yin and yang are conjoined, this mind is present; when yin
and yang separate, this mind is absent. It is not form, nor void, yet
both form and void; it is not being, not nonbeing, yet both being and
nonbeing. Form and void interpenetrate, being and nonbeing cannot
be established; this is ineffable existence within true emptiness.
When you know this mind and keep it intact, the overall basis is
already established and the rest is easy.
The ignorant who do not know this all manipulate the awareness
physical heart; some consider the active mind the heart of heaven
and earth, some consider the still mind the heart of heaven and
earth, some think the mind dwelling on the middle of the torso is
the heart of heaven and earth. This is all wrong. The avaricious
heart is the conditioned human mind with personal desires; the
active mind clings to existence, the still mind clings to nothingness,
the dwelling mind fixes on form. These minds are as far from the
heart of heaven and earth as mud is from the clouds.
The heart of heaven and earth is unified in action and stillness, is
tranquil and unperturbed yet sensitive and effective, is sensitive and
effective yet tranquil and unperturbed. How could it refer to the
physical, avaricious heart?
The Crescent Moon Furnace
THE MIND OF TAO EMERGES
The crescent moon is the moon in the beginning of its phase,
beginning to shine again after having become totally dark; this
symbolises the sudden manifestation of the celestial root in people
when they have attained utter stillness. This celestial root is called
the mind of Tao. A furnace is a vessel in which fire is used; because
the mind of Tao has a celestial light which can be used to burn away
a person’s mundanity, the mind of Tao is also represented as a
furnace. Actually, the mind of Tao is the heart of heaven and earth;
in terms of substance it is called the heart of heaven and earth; in
terms of function it is called the mind of Tao. The two names refer
to the same thing.
The ignorant who do not know this observe the crescent shape of
the Chinese character for heart and erroneously consider the
physical heart to be the crescent moon furnace. Also, those who
practise sexual yoga consider the vulva to be the crescent moon
furnace. These interpretations are both wrong. The crescent moon
furnace is the light of the mind of Tao shining; where this light
shines, all falsehood vanishes and one can become a sage and an
Tz’u-yang said, “Stop wasting your time by an alchemical stove;
to refine the elixir you must seek the crescent moon furnace.” He
also said, “In the crescent moon furnace, jade flowers grow; in the
cinnabar crucible, mercury is level. After harmonious blending by
the power of fire, the seeds have yellow sprouts which gradually
grow and develop.” By this we can know the meaning of the
crescent moon furnace.
The Cinnabar Crucible
THE ORIGINAL SPIRIT IS EVER PRESENT
DISCRIMINATION DOES NOT ARISE
Cinnabar is the colour of fire. Because fire can refine things,
getting rid of old encrustation and restoring them like new, the
phenomenon of fire, represented by a cinnabar crucible, most
efficacious, most miraculous, able to transmute things, symbolises
the spiritual illumination in people, which shines everywhere and
But there is the original spirit, and then there is the discriminating
spirit. The discriminating spirit can frustrate the Tao, the original
spirit can attain the Tao. Because of the encrustation of the faculties
of the discriminating spirit through its history, it uses the awareness
of the original spirit to create illusions, never stopping until the loss
of essence and life.
Practise of the universal science requires using the original spirit
to control the discriminating spirit. When the discriminating spirit
does not arise, aberrant fire goes out; when aberrant fire goes out,
true fire arises. When true fire arises, the harmonious energy is
fertile and the mechanism of life does not cease; so there is hope of
attaining the universal Tao.
The ignorant who do not know this mistake the conscious
discriminating spirit for the original spirit. This is wrong. The
original spirit is the nonpsychic spirit, its consciousness most real,
its reality most conscious. The conscious discriminating spirit is the
psychic spirit; though conscious, there is artificiality in it.
Consciousness in the midst of artificiality is the seed of compulsive
habit and routine. An ancient adept said, “The root of infinite ages
of birth and death, the ignorant call the original being.” The root of
birth and death is this discriminating spirit.
The Opening of the Mysterious Female
THE DOOR OF
YIN AND YANG
THE GATE OF
ACTION AND STILLNESS
THE PLACE UNTOUCHED BY THE PHYSICAL ELEMENTS
Mysterious stands for yang, for strength, for action; female stands
for yin, for flexibility, for stillness. The opening of the mysterious
female is the aperture of yin and yang, the door of strength and
flexibility, the gate of action and stillness; it has no direction, no
location, no shape, no form. It is like an opening huge in space,
where the five elements cannot reach, where the physical elements
cannot touch. Ultimate nonbeing, it contains ultimate being;
ultimate emptiness, it contains ultimate fulfilment. This is the
opening within the conjunction of yin and yang.
The ignorant who do not know this take mouth and nose to be the
mysterious female. This is wrong. The mouth and nose are the gate
through which the breath exits and enters, not the gate through
which yin and yang enter. When yin and yang conjoin, they produce
immortals and buddhas; can the air breathed in and out produce
immortals and buddhas? Understanding Reality says, “Few are they
who know the opening of the mysterious female; do not act at
random with the nose and mouth.”
The Opening of the Mysterious Pass
THE VITALITY OF
WATER AND FIRE
THE PLACE WHERE
BEING AND NONBEING
The mysterious pass is a most recondite and abstruse passageway.
It is also called the door of life and death, the chamber of vivifying
and killing, the border of divinity and humanity, the gate of
punishment and reward, the opening of being and nonbeing, the lair
of spirit and energy, the ground of emptiness and fulfilment, the
crossroads, and many other names. All of these terms depict this one
opening. The mysterious pass is another name for the mysterious
female. Because its recondite subtlety is unfathomable, it is called
the mysterious pass; because yin and yang are herein, it is called the
mysterious female. Really it is just this one opening.
The ignorant who do not know this sometimes take the space
below the heart and above the genitals to be the mysterious pass;
some consider the centre of the umbilical region to be the
mysterious pass; some call the coccyx the mysterious pass; some
take the centre of the spine, where it joins the ribs, to be the
mysterious pass. These are all wrong. The mysterious pass has no
fixed position; if it had a fixed position, it would not be the
Ch’en Hsu-pai referred to the point where thought arises as the
mysterious pass; this seems to be correct, but really is not. The point
where thought arises already has fallen into the realm of temporal
form; how can it be considered the mysterious pass?
I now clearly point out to you that the mysterious pass lies in
subtle abstraction, where being and nonbeing interpenetrate.
Understanding Reality says, “Seek the image of being in the subtle;
seek the true vitality in the recondite. From this being and nonbeing
interpenetrate; before you have seen it, how can you imagine it?”
Also, the Four Hundred Words on the Gold Elixir says, “This
opening is not an ordinary aperture; made by Heaven and Earth
together, it is called the lair of spirit and energy. Within are the
vitalities of Water and Fire.” These passages truly point out the
opening of the mysterious pass.
The Valley Spirit
YIN AND YANG
THE VALLEY SPIRIT
THE VALLEY IS FILLED WITH UNITY
The valley spirit is the spirit of open valleys. Between two high
mountains is a valley; when people shout into it, the valley conveys
their voices, so it is called the valley spirit. In Taoist practise this is
used to symbolise the spirit of open awareness in people. This is
because when the mind is open it is effectively aware; if it is not
open, it is not effectively aware. The effective awareness comes
from openness; this is called the valley spirit.
Spiritual means formless, imageless, ethereal, unfathomable. This
spirit is that which is “tranquil and unperturbed, sensitive and
effective.” The so-called solidification of the spiritual embryo is
also this spirit.
The ignorant who do not know this think that the valley spirit
means the spirit focused on the “valley of heaven” (at the top of the
head); some call concentration of the spirit in the “yellow court” (in
the middle of the torso) nurturing the valley spirit. This is wrong. If
you say the spirit focuses on the valley of heaven or concentrates in
the yellow court, then it is not open; without openness, how can
there be spirit? Not open, no spirit - how can it be called the valley
Understanding Reality says, “If you want to attain the eternal
immortality of the valley spirit, you must set up the foundation on
the mysterious female. When true vitality has returned to the golden
room, a pearl of spiritual light never leaves.” The mysterious female
is integrated and open within; being open, true awareness is ever-
present and does not become obscure. True vitality, spiritual light,
and the valley spirit, all symbolise true awareness.
The Gold Crucible and the Jade Furnace
WITH HEAVEN'S FIRMNESS AS THE CRUCIBLE,
THE MEDICINE DOESNOTFLY OFF
WITH EARTH'S FLEXIBILITY AS THE FURNACE
THE FIRE DOES NOT OVERHEAT
The gold crucible is something firm, strong, stable; this
symbolises single-minded concentration of will, by which one can
bear the Tao. The jade furnace is something warm, flexible, even,
peaceful; it symbolises gradual progress of the work, by which one
can preserve long and go far. The gold crucible is also called the
crucible of heaven ; the jade furnace is also called the furnace of
Ignorant people who do not know this cast iron crucibles, build
clay stoves, and fire metals and minerals, vainly imagining that they
will form the elixir in this way. This is wrong. This is because
material furnaces and crucibles can only refine material medicines
used for ordinary purposes; they cannot refine the immaterial elixir
An ancient immortal said, “The crucible basically is no crucible,
and the furnace is not a furnace either.” What the furnace and
crucible refer to is the fact that practise of the Tao can only be
accomplished when firmness and flexibility are both employed. This
is like a chemist needing a furnace for the crucible and needing a
crucible for the furnace; only when equipped with both furnace and
crucible can one make medicine.
The Medicinal Substances of Raven and Rabbit
WATER-MOON FIRE- SUN
HAVING CHASED THE TWO THINGS BACK INTO THE YELLOW PATH.
HOW CAN THE GOLD ELIXIR FAIL TO DEVELOP?
There is a golden raven in the sun, which is the yin within yang;
there is a jade rabbit in the moon, which is the yang within yin.
Among the trigrams, the sun is fire =, yang outside and yin inside,
symbolising the presence of flexibility within strength. Among the
trigrams, the moon is water =-=, yin outside and yang inside,
symbolising the presence of strength within flexibility. The science
of spiritual alchemy is simply a matter of taking flexibility within
strength and strength within flexibility, which are the two great
medicines of true yin and true yang, and fusing them into one
energy, thus forming the elixir. The reason that true yin and true
yang are called medicines is that it is possible thereby to accomplish
rejuvenation and extension of life. The so-called intertwining of
tortoise and snake, and the mutual settling of water and fire , both
represent this principle; it is just a matter of picking convenient
images to represent the path of unification of true yin and true yang.
The ignorant who do not know this are confused by the words
raven and rabbit , which conventionally stand for sun and moon;
some practise the “inhalation” of sunlight and moonlight into the
mouth; some practise taking in sunlight and moonlight with the
eyes. This is wrong. In the sky there are the sun and moon of the
sky; in humans there are the sun and moon of humans. The true yin
and true yang of the human being are the raven and rabbit, sun and
moon, of humans. The sun and moon in the sky are far away from
us - how can their light be collected? Even supposing something is
collected, it is external energy that can cause harm; if you do these
practises of taking light into the mouth and eyes for a long time,
they will result in swelling and blindness. So there is no benefit, but
Dragon and Tiger Meet
LAKE - METAL THUNDER -WOOD
THE DRAGON COMES FROM THE EASTERN SEA.
THE TIGER APPEARS IN THE WESTERN MOUNTAINS
THE TWO BEASTS HAW A BATTLE
AND TURN INTO THE MARROW OF HEAVEN AND EARTH
The nature of the dragon is flexible; it enlivens beings.
Associated with wood , among the trigrams it corresponds to thunder
e_=. This symbolises the flexible essence of human beings. Thunder ,
though basically yang, is taken as a symbol of flexibility because
there is less yang than yin. The nature of the tiger is strong; it kills
beings. Associated with metal , among the trigrams it corresponds to
lake ===. This symbolises firm sense in human beings. Lake , though
basically yin, is taken as a symbol of strength because there is more
yang than yin.
When this essence and this sense are separated, they become
temperament and emotion, resulting in injury. When they are
conjoined they are true essence and true sense, enhancing life. The
meeting of dragon and tiger is seeking sense through essence and
returning sense to essence, meaning that essence and sense unite.
Images such as the maid of the eastern house and the man of the
western house joining in matrimony, the eldest son and the youngest
daughter uniting, and metal and wood combining, all symbolise this
merging of true essence and true sense.
The ignorant who do not know this consider the liver as the
dragon and the lungs as the tiger, and say that the mating of the
dragon and tiger means cultivating the energies of liver and lungs in
the umbilical centre, in the lower abdomen, or in the middle of the
torso. This is wrong. What they do not realise is that the energies of
liver and lungs are conditioned physical energies; not only can they
not be joined into one, but their forced aggregation will, if continued
for a long time, produce an ailment that cannot be cured, hastening
one’s death. Is that not foolish?
Inversion of Fire and Water
TAKE THE SOLIDITY IN
THE MIDDLE OF
THE POSITION OF
WATER. . .
. . . AND CONVERT
THE YIN IN THE
FIRE MIDDLE OF THE
PALACE OF FIRE
FIRE AND WA TER SETTLE EACH OTHER
The trigram water is yin outside and yang inside; the trigram
fire = is yang outside and yin inside. Inner yang constitutes water ;
outer yang makes fire. The science of alchemy takes the yang in
water and fills in the yin in fire, using water to settle fire. This is
called water rising and fire descending, water and fire being
inverted. This symbolises the spiritual water of real knowledge of
the mind of Tao controlling the aberrant fire of conscious
knowledge of the human mind.
Our real knowledge is dark outside and light inside, like water
being yin outside and yang inside. Our conscious knowledge is
light outside and dark inside, like fire = being yang outside and
yin inside. Controlling conscious knowledge by real knowledge,
submitting to real knowledge by conscious knowledge, reality and
consciousness are unified and crystallise into the elixir. This is
likened to inverting water and fire so that water and fire settle each
other. Such images as the boy and girl, the black lead and red
mercury, also depict the uniting of real knowledge and conscious
The ignorant who do not know this say the genitals are water and
the heart of fire , and consider inversion of water and fire to mean
conveying the energy of the genitals upward to combine with the
heart, while the energy of the heart descends to the genitals. There
are also those who gather the bedroom elixir, taking the boy and girl
to actually mean a man and a woman, considering the inversion of
water and fire to mean sexual intercourse with the man below and
the woman above. Also, chemists take the inversion of water and
fire to mean using lead to stabilise mercury, or to refer to building a
fire in the furnace below while keeping water in the crucible above.
These are all wrong. The part of cultivating reality is a matter of
working on the reality; all aberrant practises and abominations
dealing with form and polluted material substance are artificial, not
real - how can one attain reality thereby?
Reversal of the Five Elements
WHEN THE FIVE ELEMENTS DO NOT GO IN ORDER,
THE DRAGON EMERGES FROM THE FIRE.
WITH THE ART OF REVERSING THE FIRE ELEMENTS.
THE TIGER EMERGES IN THE WATER
When the five elements go in order, wood produces fire , metal
produces water ; when the five elements are reversed, fire produces
wood, water produces metal. The wood produced by fire is wood
that never decays, like wood that is treated by fire to become
charcoal and lasts forever in the ground. The metal produced by
water that never rusts, like gold in a smelting furnace liquefying,
then forming an ingot with uncommon brilliance.
Fire producing wood symbolises the fundamental essence of
human beings refined in the furnace of evolution to become
permanently stable essence. Water producing metal symbolises the
true sense in human beings crossing over the waves of the ocean of
desire to become permanently undefiled sense. This is what is meant
by the saying of the ancient immortals, “When the live elements go
in order, the universe is a pit of fire; when the five elements are
reversed, the whole world is made of jewels.”
The ignorant who do not know this consider mental circulation of
energy horizontally and vertically within the body to be the reversal
of the five elements. This is wrong. What they do not realise is that
the body is wholly mundane; the internal organs and external
faculties are all temporary things, becoming a pile of stinking bones
and flesh when respiration stops - where is there anything real? It is
an impossible dream to be able to comprehend essence and life
through these temporary things.
The Yellow Woman Go-Between
IF FIRE AND WATER DO NOT HAW EARTH,
EVEN IF THEY INCLUDE THE FOUR FORMS,
THEY CANNOT FORM THE ELIXIR.
The “yellow woman” is the earth mother in the centre, called the
yellow woman because it can harmonise yin and yang and can
combine the four forms. The alchemical treaties use this to
symbolise the true faith within the true intent in people, which can
harmonise essence and sense, and nurture vitality and energy. True
intent and true faith are the yellow woman in out being; this is what
is referred to as the central communicative principle.
Ignorant people who do not know this think the yellow woman
go-between means mentally conveying the energies of the internal
organs so that they conjoin. Then there are also mischief-makers
who use glib procuresses to encourage sexual encounters so that
they can take the first sexual fluids of virgins, and call this the
yellow woman acting as go-between. This is wrong. The true earth
has no position, true intent has no form; producing all things,
containing all principles, it is possible thereby to join vitality,
energy, and spirit, and to assemble the five elements - that is why it
is called the yellow woman go-between. This term does not refer to
mental gymnastics or to procuresses.
The Twin Poles of the Two Eights
WHEN THE TWO POLES JOIN THEIR VITALITIES
THE BODY OF HEAVEN AND EARTH FORMS
From the time of the new moon, the moon communicates with the
sun; on the third day of the lunar month, a slight light appears. Then
on the eighth, the yang within yin is at the halfway point, like a
strung bow; this is called the upper pole. On the sixteenth, the slight
darkness of one yin appears on the full moon. Then on the twenty-
third, the yin within yang is at the halfway point, again like a strung
bow; this is called the lower pole.
At the upper pole is obtained eight ounces of the metal within
water ; at the lower pole is obtained eight ounces of the water within
metal : the two eights making one pound, metal and water stabilising
each other, is a symbol of yin and yang joining. Alchemical texts
use this to allude to the balance of strength and flexibility, without
partiality, without bias, perfectly centred, correctly aligned.
Ignorant people who do not know this sometimes think a male
reaching the age of sixteen is the full complement of the energies of
the twin poles of the two eights, and then they stop emission of
semen. Others take the two eights to mean eight ounces of lead and
eight ounces of mercury, and cook these into a potion to ingest.
Both are wrong. The two poles are yin and yang. The firm strength
of heaven = is yang, and the yielding flexibility of earth = = is yin.
When yin and yang mate, the body of heaven and earth is formed,
and the basis of the elixir forms. This is the meaning of the twin
The Tiny Pearl
THE UNIVERSAL ONE CONTAINS THE TRUE ENERGY
Before people are born, when they are in the womb, there is an
undifferentiated darkness; they are just in a swirl of unified energy,
with nothing else. This is what is called the universal One
containing the true energy. This energy is utterly spiritual, utterly
ineffable, utterly open, utterly miraculous; it is ultimate nonbeing,
yet contains ultimate being. The three bases, eight trigrams, four
forms, and five elements, are all contained therein; so though it is
formless, it can produce manifestations, which are endless - the
organs and members of the body all develop naturally from it.
Because it is utterly spiritual, utterly ineffable, utterly open, and
utterly miraculous, it is also called true awareness, and it is also
called the nonpsychological spirit.
In the womb, one energy containing reality is called the real
energy; after leaving the womb, awareness containing the one
energy is called conscious energy. One energy is the substance; this
is real emptiness. True awareness is the function; this is ineffable
existence. True energy, true awareness, real emptiness, ineffable
existence - though the names are different, it is just one reality. This
reality is formless, imperceptible, indescribable; it is so subtle that
the ancient immortals called this reality a tiny pearl. Yet through
they call it a tiny pearl, in reality it has no such shape; they call it
thus because there is a point of conscious energy hidden in the
centre, and because that point of awareness contains the whole
cosmos, space, and the universe. In reality it is the original energy
which is prior to the bifurcation of the vast nondifferentiation of
Ignorant people who do not know this take a blood clot of a girl’s
first menses to be the unity pearl. Also, yogins take the tiny pearl to
mean the outpouring of the light of the eyes after long concentration
of the mind on the “hall of illumination,” the spot one inch inside
the point between the eyebrows. Both of these are wrong. The tiny
pearl of primordial nondifferentiation is the jewel of consciousness
which can produce saints and sages, immortals and buddhas - how
could it be made by blood, or by the light of visualisation?
The Four Hundred Words on the Gold Elixir says, “Primal unity
contains space, space contains the universe; when you find the root
source, it is the size of a tiny grain.” San-feng said, “Who does not
know, who does not understand, who does not act - all have gotten
lost on the bead of primal nondifferentiation.
The Hexagram Signs of the Firing Process
ARE THE SUBSTANCE
ARE THE FUNCTION
THE YANG FIRE HAS ITS TIME, THE YIN CONVERGENCE HAS ITS PERIOD
The alchemical classics use the sixty-four hexagrams to represent
the principles of the yang fire and the yin convergence. The two
hexagram heaven = and earth 11 are taken for the crucible and
furnace because the firmness of yang and the flexibility of yin are
considered the substance. The two hexagrams water H and fire =
are taken for the medicinal substances because the balance of
firmness and flexibility is considered the function.
The two hexagrams return il and meeting = are the borders of
intercourse of yin and yang; they are taken to illustrate that the use
of firmness and the use of flexibility each have their time. The two
hexagrams difficulty 11 and darkness 11 are the beginning of
evolution; they are taken to represent the necessity of using firmness
when the fire is to be advanced and the necessity of using flexibility
when the fire is to be withdrawn. Settled H and unsettled H are the
end of evolution; they are taken to represent how the use of firmness
with the yang fire should not be excessive and the use of flexibility
with the yin convergence should be insufficient.
The remaining fifty-four hexagrams all follow heaven , earth ,
water , fire , return, meeting, difficulty, darkness, settled, and
unsettled in their application, naturally being so. It is a matter of the
balancing and unification of yin and yang.
The ignorant who do not know this apply the sixty-four hexagram
to the terrestrial time of calendar and clock and perform forced
practises on this framework. This is wrong. The creative energy of
yin and yang of heaven and earth flows in cycles, without beginning
or end, not according to the sequence of sixty-four hexagrams. The
sixty-four hexagrams were made by a sage who observed heaven
and earth and understood the evolution of yin and yang; the sixty-
four hexagrams are just explanatory notes on the evolution of yin
and yang. When the evolution of the human being and the evolution
of heaven and earth are in concert, there are naturally the sixty-four
hexagrams - one should not get mired in the words and cling to the
The Gate of Birth of the Self
THE MEDICINE COMES
FROM THE SOUTHWEST.
THE POSITION OF THE EARTH
IF YOU WANT TO SEEK
THE POSITION OF EARTH.
IS IT APART FROM
THE HUMAN BEING?
GAINING A COMPANION
IN THE SOUTHWEST
When the moon reaches the southwest, darkness culminates and
light is bom. The southwest is associated with earth, which is pure
yin. The arising of one yang at the bottom of pure yin has the form
of earth = = above and thunder =-= below, making the hexagram
return. In terms of the phases of the moon, this is the upturned
crescent. These images both symbolise the sudden appearance of the
celestial mind in the midst of extreme quiet. This is also called the
mind of Tao and the natural, innocent true mind; it is what was
referred to before as the crescent moon furnace.
If you see this mind, preserve it intact, and use it to promote the
celestial and withdraw the mundane, with the sustained attention of
a cat waiting to pounce on a mouse, you will naturally reach the
point where the celestial gradually grows and the mundane
gradually recedes. When mundanity is exhausted and the celestial is
pure, one is an immortal. Therefore the southwest position of earth
is called the gate of birth of the self, or the gate of giving life to the
The ignorant who do not know this think the gate of birth of the
self is the female birth canal. This is wrong. The birth canal gives
birth to humans - how can it give birth to immortals?
The Door of Killing the Self
IN THE NORTHEAST
From the northeast, the yang light of the moon is about to
disappear. The northeast is associated with mountain = =, in which
the yin energy is about to become total and the yang light is very
slight. This stage is represented by the hexagram stripping away,
which has mountain above and earth = = below; in terms of the
phases of the moon, this is the overturned bowl. These both
symbolise external influences, acquired energies, stripping away the
real, the original. Those of great power who suddenly awaken and
turn around use this bit of remaining yang to break through darkness
with light, applying effort to cultivate and sustain it; then it is not
hard to return to the fundamental and restore the original.
Ordinary people who are deluded and unawakened go along with
the force of mundanity as it strips away the celestial; then when the
celestial is exhausted and the mundane is total, it is impossible not
to die. The I Ching calls this “losing companionship in the
northwest.” Alchemical texts also call it the door of killing the self.
The ignorant who do not know this think the birth canal of the
female is the door of killing the self. This is wrong. The gate of
birth and the door of death are both immaterial, formless
passageways. By following mundanity one dies, by returning the
celestial one lives; hence the names gate of birth and door of killing.
In reality, they are just one opening. When ancient immortals called
this the pass of life and death, though they called it a pass, again this
was just a matter of terminology - it has no location, no place.
Understanding Reality says, “Make the door of death the door of
life; do not call the gate of life the gate of death. If you understand
the killing mechanism and know how to reverse it, for the first time
you will realise there is giving life within killing.” Based on this, we
can know the meaning of the gate of birth and the door of killing.
The Opening of Doing
TAKE OVER EVOLUTION
WITH DESIRE, WATCH THE OPENING.
The path of doing is the work of “watching the opening with
desire.” Watching the opening means watching the opening of the
evolution of yin and yang. The course of work, the orderly
procedure - using the temporal to restore the primordial, combining
the four forms, assembling the five elements, gathering the
medicines, operating the fire, from restoring the elixir to forming
the embryo - is all within that opening. Without the verbal
communication and mental transmission of a true teacher, a slight
miss causes a great loss.
The ignorant who do not know this take the path of doing to be
manipulation of circulation in the temporal unreal physical body.
This is wrong. The science of the gold elixir is the study of the
primordial, whereby it is possible to spin yin and yang, take over
evolution, reverse the mechanism of energy, invert heaven and
earth, and be in primordial accord with nature. It cannot be
accomplished by manipulation of the conditioned physical body.
Cheng-yang said, “Tears, saliva, gastric fluid, semen, air, blood,
and lymph, the seven marvellous substances, are all mundane - if
you take these things as the basis of the elixir, how can you fly aloft
to the celestial realms? Tz’u-yang said, “Saliva, semen, and breath
are humanly manipulated. Only when you have elixir can you
evolve. If there is no true seed in the crucible, it is like cooking with
an empty pot.” The adepts are those who recognise the real - the
path of doing is not easy to know.
The subtlety of Nondoing
FOR TEN MONTHS,
THE SPIRITUAL ELIXIR
OF THE MALE
IS NOT IN VAIN
WITHOUT DESIRE, WATCH THE SUBTLETY.
The path of nondoing is the work of watching the subtlety
without desire, and takes place after the formation of the spiritual
embryo. This is calmly watching the subtlety of the development of
the unified energy. After the spiritual embryo has formed, the
temporal has been returned to the primordial; then one just uses the
work of bathing and incubating, without either neglect or obsession,
operating the natural real fire to bring about the transmutation by
which the formless spontaneously produces form and the immaterial
produces substance. When fully developed, the infant emerges, like
a ripe melon falling from the vine; then the intense effort that had
been hitherto applied is abandoned and no longer applied.
The ignorant who do not know this, without having found out
what essence and life are and what practise of the Tao is, learn some
auxiliary methods, roundabout routes, minor techniques, and
immediately go into mountains to practise quiet sitting, or shut off
their senses and still their minds, and consider this to be nondoing.
This is wrong.
Essence and life must be cultivated as a pair; the work requires
two phases. The first of these two phases is doing, by which one
comprehends life; next comes nondoing, by which one comprehends
essence. How can one comprehend essence and life by empty, quiet
sitting and stilling the mind?
Understanding Reality says, “Before you have refined the
restored elixir, do not go into the mountains; in the mountains,
nothing within or without is real knowledge. This ultimate treasure
is in everyone - it is just that the ignorant do not fully realise it.” It
also says, “Beginning with doing, no one sees; when nondoing is
reached, everyone knows. Only seeing nondoing as the essential
marvel, do you not realise that doing is the foundation?” By this we
can know that doing and nondoing each have their time, each have
their function; they are very dissimilar.
Merging with the Ordinary World, Harmonising Illumination
SQUARE TO GOVERN
MERGING WITH THE ORDINARY WORLD, PEOPLE DO NOT KNOW YOU
HARMONISING ILLUMINATION, THE TAO IS EASY TO COMPLETE.
Merging with the ordinary world and harmonising illumination is
the foundation of the great hermit who is concealed in the city.
Merging with the ordinary world means mixing with the people
without letting them know of one’s real inner state; harmonising
illumination means harmonising without imitation, being in the
world yet transcending the world. When able to mix with the
ordinary world and harmonise enlightenment, one is outwardly
round and able to respond to people, while inwardly square and
autonomous. Using the phenomena of the world to practise the
principles of the Tao, one may appear or disappear, rebel or
conform, without hindrance; then practise of the Tao is very easy.
The ignorant who do not know this sometimes imagine that
merging with the ordinary world and harmonising illumination
means dealing with affairs in the daytime and practicing quietude at
night. This is wrong. This might be called following the ordinary
world, but not merging with the world; it may be called concealing
illumination, but not harmonising illumination.
Merging with the ordinary world and harmonising illumination
has the power to take over the evolution of heaven and earth ; it is
the secret whereby one can appropriate the vivifying and killing of
yin and yang. It is not easy to know, and not easy to do.
The medicine Goes Back in the Earth Pot
VITALITY. ENERGY AND SPIRIT MERGE INTO ONE ENERGY.
The nature of earth is warm and soft; thus it can nurture beings.
Cooking in a pot can complete things. Therefore a pot referred to as
earth means a vessel which nurtures and completes. This is not
ordinary earth, not an ordinary pot. The medicine going back in the
earth pot is a symbol for the work of incubation, gentle nurturance,
of the spiritual embryo formed by the joining of yin and yang.
Incubation of the spiritual embryo is all a matter of single-minded
attention not scattering, persistently keeping to the centre, yin and
yang not being imbalanced. Therefore it is called the earth pot, since
earth symbolises the centre; when you get down to the reality, it
simply means central balance. If you keep to the centre, yin and
yang combine, the five elements assemble, and the spiritual embryo
becomes complete. If you lose the centre, yin and yang become
lopsided, imbalanced, the five elements disintegrate, and the
spiritual embryo is damaged. So keeping to the centre, maintaining
balance, is the secret of nurturing the spiritual embryo.
The ignorant who do not know this sometimes dig out earth
ovens, heat up cinnabar, and take quicksilver from cinnabar, calling
the earth oven the earth pot. Others melt lead in a clay oven with a
reservoir of ash, and call the reservoir of ash the earth pot. They are
Tzu-yeh said, “The true earth has no position, true intent has no
form.” It is because the “earth pot” which is the centre has no form,
no appearance, no location, no place, that it can develop and
complete the spiritual embryo. It does not mean a clay vessel.
Solidifying the Spiritual Embryo
EMBRACING THE FEMALE
WITHIN THE MALE
SECRETING TOE SPIRIT
STORING THE ENERGY
The spiritual embryo is the embryonic sage, the fundamental state
of the infant, without discrimination or knowledge. When you reach
the state of absence of discrimination or knowledge, the spirit is
unified, objects disappear, and you enter into a state of profound
trance without differentiation, entering from doing into nondoing.
Ignorant people who do not know this think that conveying the
energies of heart and genitals to mix in the solar plexus region is the
spiritual embryo; some consider concentration of the mind in the
midtorso to be the spiritual embryo; some say the spiritual embryo
means conveying energy up the spine and down the front of the
body, finally dwelling in the lower abdomen. All of these are
wrong. The spiritual embryo is formless and immaterial; though it is
called an embryo, in reality there is no embryo to be seen. The term
embryo just describes true awareness becoming solidified,
stabilised, not scattering. If you forcibly coagulate a corpuscle of air
and blood, that is a ghost embryo which hastens death, not the
spiritual embryo of eternal life.
In Ten Months the Embryo Is Complete
The completeness of the embryo in ten months is a symbol of
completeness of spirit, repleteness of energy, mental accretions
gone, acquired influences dissolved, mundanity exhausted, the
celestial pure. It is like pregnancy being completed in ten lunar
months; but when it is said that the method of the gold elixir is
completed in ten months, this is just using the metaphor of
pregnancy - it means that after the spiritual embryo is solidified, it
is necessary to ward off danger and gently nurture it until it is fully
developed, without any lack; it does not mean there is a fixed period
of ten months.
The ignorant who do not know this are misled by the words ten
months, and actually take ten months as a fixed period, during
which they practise energy circulation, visualisation, or mental
freezing, by which they imagine they will solidify the embryo. This
is wrong. The path of cultivation of reality, from gathering the
medicines, refining them, crystallising the elixir, solidifying the
embryo, to release and transmutation, requires boundless effort -
how could it be limited to ten months? By this we can know that ten
months is just a symbolic term.
The Infant Emerges
The emergence of the infant means the release and transmutation
of the spiritual embryo. The spiritual embryo means that within the
material body there is also a spiritual body; release and
transmutation mean that the spiritual body is born from the material
body. Because the spiritual body is born from within the material
body, this is likened to a woman giving birth after ten months of
pregnancy, producing an infant. Therefore the spiritual body is
called the infant. When the infant emerges, there is a body outside
the body, leaping out of the world, not remaining within the five
elements, avoiding transmigration, having the same life span as
heaven and earth , the same age as sun and moon.
The ignorant who do not know this take the true yang within
water =-= to be the spiritual body, the infant; some take the vital
energy in the genitals to be the spiritual-body infant. The infant
within water is yang within yin; the spiritual-body infant is the
reality of the merging and sublimation of yin and yang. As for the
energy within the genitals, this is a wildfire in the genitals, and does
not have the meaning of the infant at all. They should not be mixed
Understanding Reality says, “The infant is the unified true
energy; in ten months the embryo is complete, entering the spiritual
foundation.” The Four Hundred Words on the Gold Elixir says,
“When husband and wife have intercourse, clouds and rain form in
the bedroom. In a year is born an infant, and everyone rides on a
crane.” By this we can know what the infant of the spiritual body
Shifting the Furnace, Changing the Crucible
HEAVEN AND EARTH BOTH
RETURN TO EMPTINESS
THE CRUCIBLE OF UNIVERSAL VOID
THE FURNACE OF NONDOING
When the great Tao is completely attained, there is a body outside
the body, one is physically and mentally sublimated, and one has
reached the stage of a great sage, there is no further need for furnace
and crucible - why should there be such a thing as shifting the
furnace, changing the crucible? The reason for shifting the furnace
and changing the crucible is to store the spiritual body and secretly
develop spiritual powers.
What is shifted is the furnace, what is changed is the crucible.
Using universal void for the crucible and nondoing for the furnace,
the former crucible of heaven and the furnace of earth , the cinnabar
crucible and the crescent moon furnace, as well as the medicinal
substances, are no longer used. All that is used is the spiritual body.
The spiritual body transmutes spontaneously in emptiness,
becoming increasingly effective with increasing openness,
becoming increasingly marvellous with increasing voidness. Its
marvellous efficacy unfathomable, its transmutations endless, is
what is called the child also producing grandchildren, and the
grandchildren also branching out. Getting to this state, ceasing
effort, breaking through space, and leaping up to the supreme
infinite celestial realm - this is the perfect attainment.
Students of later times who have not gotten the authentic tradition
sometimes suppose that having a body outside the body is the
consummation of the Tao. This is not so. The Song of Tapping the
Lines says, “When not a single thing exists, that finally reveals the
Tao; in the five directions comes through the countenance of the
real person. Immortal boys and girls greet one on coloured clouds,
and in the five palaces of illumination, pronouncements of truth are
transmitted.” Seeing this, we know that the ultimate
accomplishment is only when the spiritual body can transmute in
FIFTY VERSES TO RESOLVE DOUBTS
1. Detachment from the World
Of worldly things, a thousandfold, not one is real;
The sentiments of mundane ties are most injurious to the being.
Cutting through with one stroke, there is nothing to bind you;
In the realm of liberation you become an independent person.
2. Cultivation and Sleep
Cutting down on sleep is really not removing the demon of sleep;
Forgetting to eat, neglecting to sleep, you cut through
When entanglements are swept away and the mind is clear
You may sleep throughout the day and night - what is there
Practise developing virtue is the greatest priority;
When achievement is great and practise profound, it moves
heaven and earth.
Ridiculous are the foolish ones who only profit themselves;
With no achievement and little action, they dream of becoming
4. The Gold Elixir
The primordial basic essence is called the elixir;
In the furnace of the eight trigrams it is forged into a pill.
The deluded throughout the world vainly seek external
By taking these, they wrongly imagine they can ascend to the
5. The Mysterious Pass
Few people know the opening of the mysterious pass;
Extremely subtle and recondite, it contains yin and yang.
Going along, you flow back into the road of affliction;
Coming back in reverse, this is the foundation of sages.
6. The Discriminating Spirit
The consciousness which thinks is called the discriminating
The seed of transmigration, it carries the accretions of the senses.
The ignorant and deluded both play with the wandering soul;
After all, who can see the host behind it all?
7. The Celestial Vitality
A point of celestial vitality is hidden in the physical being;
When you recognise the real, you can set you sights upon it.
It is not in the heart and not in the genitals;
Not void, not form, it is concealed in the mysterious pass.
8. Primordial Energy
The primordial unified energy is in the vast undifferentiated;
It has no shape or form, yet does not fall into voidness.
When you recognise the true state of the beginning of life,
Only then will you know there is a host within your self.
9. The Primordial and the Conditioned
Before birth is called the primordial;
Temperament comes along with emergence in the world.
The sages of yore and people of late are divided on two roads;
You should carefully distinguish the partial and complete.
10. The Beginning of the Course
The beginning of the course is basically the primal treasure,
The subtle, recondite, true unified vitality.
It is something unadulterated, flawless, pure;
Do not misapply this term to menstrual blood.
1 1 . Three Medicines
The medicines are of three kinds - vitality, energy, and spirit;
Whatever has form is not the original reality.
Utterly pure, open and aware, these medicines
Are refined into the indestructible spiritual body.
12. Essence and Life
Essence and life are basically divided into primordial and
When the living body falls to the ground, it determines partial
Temporal essence and life follow the turns of fate;
Get hold of the primordial and you wield the authority yourself.
13. The Heart of Heaven and Earth
The heart of heaven and earth - where is it stored?
Yin and yang stimulate it to manifest a sphere of light.
Refining it in the crucible of openness and nonbeing,
Forever and ever it never wanes away.
14. The Mind ofTao and the Human Mind
The human mind is like iron, the mind of Tao like gold;
One should assess them carefully in terms of subtlety and
The spiritual capacity of transmutation has no high and low;
At the fountainhead, the living water distinguishes yang and yin.
15. Before Birth
In the state before birth, who knows?
When silent, passive, undifferentiated,
The four forms and five elements do not reach;
The unified energy has no male or female.
16 .At Birth
The newborn state - what is it like?
The primordial and the temporal are one energy.
No discrimination, no knowledge, not a single stain -
The seed of buddhas and immortals, the lair of sages.
17. The Other
The other is not another person;
If you mistake it for another, you are already way off.
Your child has wondered off outside -
Give it a call; when it sees your face, it will follow its parent.
18. Other and Self
The classics speak of other and self to distinguish yin and yang;
This is the realm of purity, neither material nor void.
Those who practise deviant techniques of sexual alchemy
Destroy their natural innocence in the brothels.
Associates should be divided into inner and outer supports;
With two or three people as personal associates,
And outer associates likewise helping out,
Shed the dust of personal history.
People seek patrons, hoping to accomplish their practises;
Buying crucibles, smelting lead, they madly grasp for the wind.
How can they understand that the celestial mechanism transcends
things of the world?
Depending on the power of others, they stick to their ignorance.
21. The Ninefold Crucible
The number nine associated with heaven is called pure yang;
The method of refining restored elixir in the ninefold crucible
Is interpreted by the deluded to refer to women as crucibles -
They will surely enter an inescapable impasse.
22. Summoning and Absorbing
There is a secret method of summoning and absorbing the
Beckoning fulfilment by emptiness, you see the emperor of
In the clamour of form and sound, there is no obstruction;
Freely you spin the north star.
What difficulty is there in inverting yin and yang?
You should exercise spiritual observation in quietude.
When the mind of Tao is not obscured, the human mind
Right away you ascend directly to the peak experience.
24. The Firing Process
The work of operating the fire basically has no time;
Working by day, introspective by night, you kill the inner
Warding off danger, wary of peril, ever clear and calm,
In dealing with people you adjust without error.
25. The Hexagram Images
For the firing process, the classics speak of the I Ching hexagrams;
But it is wrong to ponder the lines and cling to the images.
It is all a matter of needing to understand the principle of yin
Advance or withdraw according to the time, as is indicated.
26. The Furnace and Crucible of Heaven and Earth
The crucible of heaven and furnace of earth are in one’s
Stop inquiring externally after their basis.
When firmness and flexibility have no separation,
They forge the primal unified energy, the real.
27. The Crescent Moon Furnace
You ask what the crescent moon furnace is -
Within black there is white, returning after darkness.
Clearly I point out the matrix of the restored elixir
To waken the people of the time - do you know or not?
28. The Cinnabar Crucible
Cultivation of reality depends on the cinnabar crucible;
It is not iron, not gold, not silver.
Recognising the light of awareness, you take the fresh,
Replacing the old, you see original humanity.
29. The Earth Pot
The earth pot is not made of earth;
The proper state of central balance is its true name.
Wood , metal , water , and fire, all gather herein,
Cultivating a mystic pearl that shines through the night.
30. The Dipper Handle
By watching the dipper handle as it turns in the sky,
You will realise that the mechanism of life is elsewhere.
Turning it around to retrieve autonomy within,
Then in the midst of the fire a golden lotus will appear.
3 1 . The Two Poles
The lower pole is water , the upper pole metal ;
It is just a matter of harmonious stabilisation of yin and yang.
If you succeed in combining firmness and flexibility,
In the centre appears the heart of nirvana.
32. Clear and Cloudy
Clear water is celestial, cloudy water is mundane;
How many students make a close investigation?
Where the pivotal works move, real and false are divided;
Getting rid of the cloudy and keeping the clear produces white
Practising self-refinement is the first priority;
Stopping craving, forgetting emotions, removing entanglements,
When all attachment to the senses is cut off,
There is a single field of elixir, completely clean and clear.
34. Setting Up the Foundation
Stability of will is setting up the foundation;
Not wavering in body or mind is most excellent.
Rely on that in trouble and trial;
With no waves on still waters, there is no connection to things.
35. Lead and Mercury
True mercury is not mercury of the mundane world;
True lead is not lead that comes from mines.
One is sense, one essence, the primordial medicines;
Refining them, returning to the root, there is a great restoration.
36 . The Boy and Girl
When the girl hides in fire, she is not real;
When the boy is in water, he cannot be followed.
But now that the opening of yin and yang has been explained,
By openness and solidity they give birth to the spiritual body.
37 . Water =-= and fire
Do not seek water send fire in the north and south.
The nature of fire is to fly up; water flows down.
If you can invert the two things,
Water rises, fire descends, and they form the elixir.
38 . Thunder =-= and Lake
Lake is not in the west, thunder not in the east;
When essence is disturbed and sense confused, their energies do
When you attain the method of restoring sense to essence,
In a moment you see the true inner self.
39 . Midnight and Noon
Stop looking for midnight and noon in the night and day;
There is another indicator within the body.
There is yin and yang, movement and stillness, according to
In the midst of concentration you always hear the note of high
40 . Six A.M. and Six P.M.
The classics say that bathing is done at six in the morning and
This describes two energies without the flaw of imbalance.
The ignorant who do not understand the meeting of yin and yang
Practise quiet sitting in the morning and at night.
41. The Yellow Woman
The pairing of female and male requires the yellow woman;
The central mediator forms the receptacle of creation.
If you ask for genuine information on the yellow woman,
Sincerity alone has the effect of harmonising the five elements.
42. Restoring the Elixir
Why is cultivating the elixir called restoring the elixir?
When the five energies are separated, each is isolated;
When you know how to restore the original state, they all
Mind and body unwavering, they form into a whole.
43. Maturation of the Elixir
When the elixir has been restored, there is another method;
It does not require adjustment and further increase of yang.
The spiritual fire spontaneously burns in the furnace,
Sending forth a bead of light which suffuses the heavens.
44. The Spiritual Embryo
The spiritual embryo is not a corpuscle with form;
When energy clusters and spirit congeals, the true seed is
Aware of perils, warding off danger, constantly taking care,
If you are too intent, it will surely cause disaster.
45. Release from the Womb
When the spiritual embryo is released and transmuted, then it is
Ten months of work nurtures the valley spirit.
Celestial energy totally pure, the force of mundanity exhausted,
An immortal being leaps out in open space.
Doing is not manipulation of the physical body;
Forced gymnastics all result in injury.
How can you understand the true secret, mentally transmitted?
Unfathomed by ghosts or spirits, one revolves yin and yang.
47 . Nondoing
Nondoing is not sticking to indifferent emptiness;
When you are able to avoid negligence and obsession both,
Rooting out the seeds of repeated birth and death,
Right in the centre there is just one spiritual youth.
48 . Return =_= and Meeting =
When yin culminates, returning to yang, advance the fire;
When yang is pure, on the verge of meeting, work the yin
When yin convergence and yang fire are used without error,
They forge the picture of the primordial absolute.
49 . Gentle and Vigorous
Conquering demons by intense effort is vigorous cultivation;
Nurturing energy with empty mind is gentle development.
Knowing what is indicated and what is not, adapting to the
Everywhere gold shines, the eyes are clear.
50 . Harmonising Illumination
Harmonising illumination, merging with the ordinary world, is
the secret celestial mechanism;
The spiritual achievement of the great function is truly rare.
Ever responsive, ever clear, ever independent,
According to the time one sheds the old and dons new clothing.
ON THE TRUE OPENING OF THE MYSTERIOUS FEMALE
If students want to practise the great Tao and comprehend essence
and life, first they should find the opening of the mysterious female.
The opening of the mysterious female is the opening of the
This opening has a double door, opening and closing. It is nine
feet high and five feet wide. Outside is a spiritual officer on sentry;
inside are a dragon and tiger standing guard. The central hall is one
room which extends in all directions; in it dwells a true human, with
unkempt hair and bare feet, wearing a patchwork garment of five
colours and a belt of yellow silk, holding a sceptre of golden light,
sitting peacefully on the chair of spontaneity, leaning back without
casting a shadow on the wall, a crystal lamp hung in front, eyes half
closed, immobile, at rest, not impulsively looking around, not
speaking at random. To the right there is a golden boy, to the left a
Sometimes the true human opens its eyes and light fills the
universe, illumining even the dark regions of the netherworld.
Sometimes the true human opens its mouth and energy fills the
universe, putting all demons to flight. The true human holds the
power of evolution, the mechanism of yin and yang, the talisman of
life and death, the handle of essence and life.
However, there are few people in the world who are in genuine
earnest. Most cannot put forth intensive effort or endure long
perseverance; also they do not seek out the fundamental true
principles, but just think of the mysterious pass and mysterious
female in terms of physical locations and do some minor techniques
which are attached either to voidness or to form, falsely imagining
that they will attain the Tao thereby. This is pitiful.
If one is a true stalwart, one can decisively set aside all
entanglements, so that all objects are empty, and concentrate on the
matter of most urgent importance, never changing one’s
determination; then one can eventually come to know the
mysterious pass, see the mysterious female, and finally comprehend
essence and life. Students should work on this.
ESSENTIAL TEACHINGS FOR CULTIVATING REALITY
The great Tao is uncontrived, based on spontaneity;
But until the work is complete, one cannot adapt with autonomy.
At the fork in the road, look for the true seed;
In the furnace of the eight trigrams, refine the heaven of essence.
The bottomless boat of method can cross the sea;
Within punishment is hidden reward, which people can hardly
In harm arises blessing, which requires concentration.
The four forms blend, returning to the original state;
The five elements aggregate, growing a golden lotus.
Only when there is increase and decrease is it marvellous;
Only knowing what is indicated and what not can you enter the
Shedding all defiling things which bind and envelop,
You attain the state of completeness before birth.
Cultivating immortality, becoming enlightened, all depends
Anything else is in vain, running to extremes.
Practicing self-refinement is
the first priority;
When all attachment to
the senses is cut off.
There is a single field of elixir,
completely clean and clear.
— Liu lining
The Inner Teachings of Taoism is cen-
tered on a classic of Chinese alchemy
written in the eleventh century by a
founder of the Complete Reality School
of Taoism, Originally known as Tour
Hundred Words on the Gold Elixir y die
central text is a brief aphoristic work
that uses colorful metaphorical lan-
guage to summarize the essentials of
self-transformation according to this
school Often regarded as “reformed"
Taoism, die Complete Reality School
excluded superstitious elements and in-
sisted on a practical basis for all its
methods and activities. The aim of its
teachings was the reunification of the
fragmented self into the original whole,
complete human being. The process of
refining the self toward this end is die
work of alchemy.
Accompanying the text is a lucid
commentary by a nineteenth-century
adept that unlocks the meaning of the
alchemical symbolism, explaining ervp-
rk images such as the “gold elixir.’' the
“jade furnace,” the “firing process,” and
“true lead,” so diat the student may pro-
ceed from the symbol to discover the
underlying principle of spiritual prac-
tice. In addition, the commentator has
contributed verses illustrating the jiomr
of each section of the text, plus notes
on the essential teachings and secrets of
Thomas Cleary holds a doctorate in
Hast Asian languages and civilizations
from Harvard University. He has
translated several classic texts, includ
ing Vitality, Energy, Spirit and The
Taoist I ( '.bin/i.
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